Seeing both sides of Betsy DeVos
People hate Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos.
When she spoke at the Kennedy School of Government, students held up signs calling her a “white supremacist.”
When she tried to visit a school, activists physically blocked her way.
The haters claim DeVos knows little about education, only got her job because she gave money to Republican politicians and hates free public education.
Of course, education isn’t really “free.”
Taxpayers spend $634 billion a year on it. It’s laughable that activists claim conservatives “cut” education spending. Funds per student tripled over the past several decades, while test scores stayed flat.
Some of that failure is because of what DeVos really opposes: government’s education bureaucracy.
The department she inherited is a good example of that. K-12 schools are controlled and funded locally, but taxpayers are forced to ship education money to Washington, D.C., where bureaucrats there grab some, and then ship the rest back — with strings attached.
President Ronald Reagan tried to get rid of the Department of Education. He failed. Since then, it’s only grown. It now spends
$193.1 billion a year.
DeVos proposed a mere
$9 billion in cuts.
But nothing goes away in Washington, no matter how wasteful. The Republican Congress ignored her proposed cuts and increased her budget by $2 billion.
DeVos, like some other agency heads appointed by President Donald Trump, resists expanding the federal bureaucracy.
People hate her for that, too.
When activists blocked her school visit, she told me for my latest online video, “We drove away, and (the security guard) said, ‘Ma’am, I don’t think we should go back’ and I said … ‘They are not going to win. I am determined to meet those kids and those teachers.'”
The protesters seemed less interested in her views on education than on the fact that she’s rich.
One yelled: “Keep giving money to senators.”
DeVos is rich. Her father built a company that became worth more than a billion dollars. Then she married into to the Amway marketing fortune.
Walter Shaub, former head of the Office of Government Ethics, told CNN, “DeVos’s primary expertise seems to be in being a rich person.”
I asked DeVos about the charge that she “bought her position.”
“Yes, I have been a contributor,” she said. “I’ve also been an activist. I think it’s important for people to engage in things that they believe in. But that’s not the point. The point is for 30 years I have been working on behalf of families that have not had opportunity.”
She benefited from the free market. Now she wants to bring those benefits to students who’ve been badly treated by government-run schools.
She donated to charter and private schools and served on the boards of groups that promote education choice.
None of that counts as expertise, says the education establishment.
“What she has done is actually made schooling worse in Michigan,” ranted teachers union boss Randi Weingarten on MSNBC. “Eighty percent of the charter schools in Detroit are failing.”
Some Detroit schools are doing badly, acknowledges DeVos, but charter students do “demonstrably better than the students in traditional public schools.”
She’s right. A Stanford study found that kids at Detroit charter schools get months of additional learning every year compared to their public school peers. Choice did help.
Charter and private schools are often better because they are freer to innovate. They can do things like set different hours, be open during summer and pay good teachers more.
Parents in the rest of the country deserve that opportunity, too.
“If there were real choice, good teachers would make much more money,” I suggested to DeVos.
“Absolutely,” she replied. “By the same token, teachers who aren’t good and really shouldn’t be in the classroom probably wouldn’t be… (N)obody would choose their classroom! People are not stupid. They know where their kid is going to do best.”
Unions and education bureaucrats don’t want parents making those decisions. They say, “Teachers should be retrained, not fired” and “Competition is not for kids!”
“We need to do something different,” DeVos says. “This country is on a trajectory to failure, ultimately, if we do not turn around how we educate kids.”