By Gigi Hume and Jacob Rivas
DISCLAIMER: This article displays a liberal bias and highlights the negatives of DeVos’ new position. The opinions in this article do not represent the Pitchfork or Tustin High School as a whole.
On February 7, 2017, the Senate confirmed Education Secretary Betsy DeVos with a slim 51-50 vote as Vice President Mike Pence broke the tie. Ever since her initial nomination by President Trump on November 23, 2016, her rhetoric has been met with criticism from Democrats and moderate Republicans alike for her platform based on increasing funding for charter schools and privatized education. But the controversy doesn’t end there, and to understand her beliefs, it is necessary to analyze her political career.
She first had her start in politics nearly 35 years ago in 1982 by participating as the Michigan Republican Party’s local precinct delegate, and from there worked her way up to become the Republican National Committeewoman for Michigan from 1992-1997, as well as chairwoman of Michigan Republican Party from 1996-2000. However, what is really gaining her notice is her extensive political fundraising. Ever since 1980, the DeVos family has donated a collective $17 million to the Republican Party, a tactic she used to her advantage to sway the votes of 22 of the 51 senators voting in her confirmation, 43% of all the voters.
Though this may seem stunning—the fact that government corruption essentially bought her position—this is not the first time she has spread misinformation and utilized manipulation to advance herself. Most recently in her Senate confirmation, she was asked by Senator Patty Murray (D-Wa) “Why do you think their performance is so poor?” in regards to these “virtual charter schools” which she is a major proponent for, and her response seemingly justified her songs of praise through high graduation rates. Nevada Virtual Academy at 100%, Ohio Virtual Academy at 92%, and Utah Virtual Academy at 96%, and if that sounds unbelievable, it’s because it is. Nevada Virtual Academy? Try 63%. And Ohio Virtual Academy? They come in at 53%, and you can see where I’m going from there.
This is one of her far more blatant and recent examples of her use of, as Kellyanne Conway would put it, “alternative facts,” but it doesn’t end there. Betsy and her husband Richard DeVos have been frequent donors to Christian right foundations like the Acton Institute, a foundation that has been known to take anti-LGBT stances and has also been quoted saying it would be “premature” to say she would uphold Title IX, the 1972 federal law that prevents gender discrimination in schools. Within these actions, there is the concern that she may act upon these discriminatory beliefs in her new position which will inevitably have adverse effects on women, LGBT, and minority students. And of course, she is an outspoken advocate for reducing funding for those “dead end” public schools in favor of private charter schools.
The main problem with this is that charter schools are taxpayer funded schools that are privately run. Now, because they are privately run, the people who run it can teach whatever, which DeVos plans to use (and has used) to her advantage. The American Federation for Children, of which she was a former chairwoman for, provides vouchers and tax credit scholarships to students so they can receive tax cuts, but 70% of these funds are going to religiously affiliated schools, which she wants to continue to “advance God’s kingdom” while submerging herself into the murky territory of blending secular and religious matters.
As for opinions of Tustin administrators and staff, Tustin’s very own Keith Martyn, our U.S. History and Government teacher gave his opinion of the matter and he stated, “The fact that I’m probably more qualified to be the Secretary of Education scares me.”
You’re not alone Mr. Martyn. Each of these ways DeVos is stirring up controversy has been met with widespread criticism, most recently in the form of being briefly blocked from entering a Washington DC middle school, and these comments do give reason to be alarmed, particularly for those who it directly impacts—public school students. So now to all us kids, all we can do is continue to practice consciousness in regards to our government, refuse to become desensitized to discrimination, and above all, resist.