Betsy DeVos has received quite a bit of criticism in recent weeks, and frankly I find this initial level of criticism to be both unfair and un-American. As Americans, we should be criticizing DeVos much more.
To understand why, we must first look at what the federal government’s relationship with education actually is, because that’s where DeVos’ mistakes will make an impact. It is not the job of the federal government to determine curricula or local funding mechanisms. Those are, and have always been, state and municipal duties.
Rather, the federal government’s job is to make sure that everyone has equal access to their constitutionally guaranteed education—that means programs like Title IX, Title I (for poorer students) and IDEA (for disabled children). These duties focus primarily on students who are uniquely underserved or vulnerable. The role of the federal government is to provide a minimum standard for schools to maintain in protecting the rights of students. Don’t take my word for it: According to the Department of Education itself, its primary functions are to “establish policy for, administer and coordinate most federal assistance to education, collect data on U.S. schools, and to enforce federal educational laws regarding privacy and civil rights.”
Sounds simple, or, if not simple, at least understandably different from the roles of local and state education boards. Unfortunately, what the Department of Education wants and what Betsy DeVos wants are not congruent. DeVos has publicly stated that she desires to “advance God’s kingdom” by reforming schools. Her goals do not align with the idea of protecting students’ rights and maintaining a basic standard for freedom and quality of education in schools. Instead, what few policy goals she has revealed seem to be aimed toward federal curriculum manipulation and similarly heavy-handed changes.
Most students rely on our nation’s public schools for their education, but DeVos has never attended one. She has never sent her children to one. She has never even worked in one. In fact, she has diverted money from public schools to private schools. I do not mean to denigrate private schools, of course, but it’s unrealistic—frankly, naïve—to support them at the expense of public institutions in a nation in which the vast majority of students do not have access to a privileged private education.
In short, we know that she is not going to support the average or underprivileged student. Her record shows that she is completely dedicated to maximizing the resources of already-wealthy private schools at the expense of public schools. This is shocking, since her position in the Department of Education applies almost exclusively to public schools. But is she actually qualified to be supporting anybody at all?
This is, after all, a person who has never worked in the government at any level. DeVos has never managed a bureaucracy. She did not bother to prepare for her own confirmation hearing, to the point that Republicans had to ask her questions like, “Do you support public education?” to give her a chance to answer one with something approaching competence. During that very hearing, DeVos revealed that she does not understand critical tenets of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act—an act that she has now sworn to uphold.
When we consider alongside this list of failures that DeVos seems to have been appointed purely due to her family’s donation of more than $200 million to conservative politicians, it becomes clear that this is a human being who should never have received her position. Betsy DeVos’ nomination has nothing to do with her experience, intelligence or qualifications. It is exclusively a reward for her financial gifts to the Republican Party. As Americans, we have a simple question to ask ourselves: Are we criticizing Betsy DeVos enough?