From Kalamazoo to Detroit to the Thumb, teachers are looking forward to what the future of public education might be without Secretary Betsy DeVos.
HOLLAND, Mich.—While Michiganders celebrate the election of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris as president- and vice president-elect, Michigan educators are celebrating what that changing of the guard will mean for schools. They’re waving goodbye to fellow Michigander and Trump-appointed Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos.
For four long years, DeVos has been leveraging the Department of Education to promote her personal animosity toward public schools and build up charter, private and parochial alternatives—something Michigan teachers noticed.
They are first in line to say goodbye to DeVos’ influence in public education.
“It’s the most satisfying and humbling moment education has had in the last four years,” Kalamazoo Public Schools English teacher Holly Bruning told The ‘Gander. “I couldn’t be happier to have her getting the boot.”
But these weren’t the only issues local teachers took with DeVos’ performance and ethic.
And of course there is the matter of the tax dodges DeVos has engaged in in her personal life. The taxes evaded on just one of her family’s yachts could fund school nurses for a quarter million Michigan students.
Even when not withholding money from public schools, DeVos has made policy decisions firmly rebuked by actual educators, like demanding schools return to in-person instruction during the coronavirus pandemic or seeking to implement standardized testing during that time.
She also said that as part of building a Christian nation she wanted to consign secular education to the “ash heap of history”. This was part of her broader plan to use the levers at her disposal as Secretary of Education to radically transform America into her vision of “God’s Kingdom.”
“For nearly fifty years, Michigan’s constitution has strictly prohibited taxpayer funding of private and religious schools,” the Michigan chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union said in a statement.
And those are just some of the reasons teachers like Bruning are happy that the end of the Trump administration means the end of Betsy DeVos’ education policies. The National Educators Association has a more complete timeline of DeVos’ actions as Secretary.
Protect Our Public Schools, a Michigan nonprofit which has been so critical of DeVos that they sent a mobile billboard across Michigan to DeVos’ mansion in Holland, is relieved to no longer have to combat the Secretary of Education as well.
“For years, we’ve had a U.S. Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos, who simply does not believe in the power and promise of America’s public schools,” Ellen Offen, Vice President of Protect Our Public School, told The ‘Gander. “Betsy DeVos repeatedly tried gutting public school funding and constantly pushed a damaging agenda meant to harm public schools across the country. Even during a global pandemic when schools needed more federal support and guidance, DeVos tried derailing public school funding.”
Protect Our Public Schools explained that, for instance, DeVos has directed about $1 billion per year to Michigan charter schools. Four in five of those schools are run for-profit and 70% of them are in the bottom half of state rankings. The abrupt closing of one Detroit charter school in 2018 left 200 students without a school at all only weeks into the academic year. When the same thing happened in 2016, it at least happened days before the school year began.
Offen, a former Detroit Public Schools teacher, told The ‘Gander that this poor choice of priorities extended into 2020 and failure to help schools prepare for the pandemic even as she demanded a return to instruction as normal.
“Instead of leading America’s public schools during the COVID-19 crisis, Betsy DeVos spent her summer in her mansion going on bike rides and playing with puzzles,” she said. “Thanks to states such as Michigan, it looks like she’ll have a lot more time on her hands to play with puzzles.”
For Kim Eberhard, an English teacher at St. Clair High School in the East China School District, is happy not only that DeVos is out, but that an actual, still-teaching educator will be First Lady to help keep the new Education Secretary informed about realities in classrooms.
“I’m thinking about a First Lady who is a teacher and has a doctorate in education,” Eberhard told The ‘Gander. “She sure can help call bull—t if necessary.”
But that, Eberhard said, is a problem for tomorrow. She is concerned about getting a new Education Secretary confirmed by the Senate, and control of the Senate won’t be decided until the new year. If Republicans retain control, current Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is poised to prevent Biden’s cabinet appointments, Salon explains, as he did the Supreme Court nomination of Merrick Garland in the final year of the Obama presidency.
It isn’t enough to just say goodbye to DeVos, a new and supportive Secretary of Education is needed, Eberhard explained.
“We need to focus on Georgia’s January runoff for Senate seats,” she said.