On Tuesday, Vice President Mike Pence broke a tie in the U.S. Senate to confirm President Donald Trump’s nominee to head the Department of Education, Betsy DeVos. Liberals have launched numerous attacks on DeVos, even protesting her nomination with a 24-hour “speechibuster” reminiscent of Ted Cruz’s anti-Obamacare message in 2013.
Liberal attacks have branded her an elitist, a religious extremist, and a foe of public education. But what will DeVos actually do as secretary of Education? Here are 5 things to expect from the newly confirmed secretary.
1. Decentralize education, abolish Common Core.
When asked what DeVos will actually do at the Department of Education, Friends of Betsy DeVos spokesman Ed Patru told PJ Media, “I think you’ll see a concerted effort to return decision-making back to states.”
Americans for Prosperity President Tim Phillips praised DeVos as “someone who understands that better outcomes can’t be dictated from Washington.”
Along those lines, DeVos released a statement last year announcing her full opposition to the Common Core Education Standards. DeVos supports “high standards, strong accountability, and local control,” her statement explained. She noted that many of the organizations she supported also backed Common Core, but added that “along the way, it got turned into a federalized boondoggle.”
2. Put kids before unions.
“I also think you’ll see a Department of Education that, before every decision, asks itself: ‘Is this policy in the interest of kids, or is it in the interests of teachers, administrators and organized labor leaders?'” Patru added. He argued that under DeVos’ leadership, “the interests of kids will always take priority.”
Black leaders have also praised DeVos for her concern about all kids, regardless of race. “She’s not African American, but she’s concerned about our children,” Dr. Dwight Montgomery, president of the Memphis Chapter of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), declared in December. Montgomery said DeVos will be committed to “make sure that every child is in an environment to receive the education that is in the best interest of the child.”
The new secretary of Education will “have a commitment to education, not just public education,” Montgomery declared. This may involve shaking up the status quo, to put the needs of children ahead of the education establishment.
3. School choice.
DeVos has promised to revolutionize education in concrete ways, through school vouchers and charter schools. She has supported these programs in order to deliver “top-notch education for all students, regardless of their location or socioeconomic level.”
In 2000, DeVos and her husband backed a ballot proposal to amend the Michigan Constitution to create a school voucher program that allows taxpayer funds to follow students to private schools. While that proposal failed, the couple formed a political action committee to support voucher-friendly candidates on the national level. DeVos has also fought to expand the number of school choice programs across the country.
DeVos and her husband also helped to pass Michigan’s first charter school law, establishing publicly funded schools open to all students, but able to operate with more autonomy than traditional public schools. There are currently 275 charter schools in Michigan, and while these schools have been criticized for their lack of accountability and government oversight, they provide more educational options for children.
Howard Fuller, Ph.D., who served as superintendent of Milwaukee Public Schools, said that his experience in education taught him that “one of the things that does work is parent choice.” He supported DeVos as a champion of that kind of choice.
“Betsy DeVos understands the importance of parent choice, particularly for low-income and working-class families,” Fuller declared in a video. “She will fight hard to give children access to great schools, regardless of their zip codes. Betsy is a proven reformer, who will take on protectors of the status quo and the special interests to ensure that all of our children receive a quality education.”
By the way, before Democrats opposed DeVos and her school choice plans, Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren wrote these words (in her 2004 book The Two-Income Trap: Why Middle Class Parents are Going Broke):
An all-voucher or all-school choice system would be a shock to the educational system, but the shake out might be just what the system needs.
Yes, Mrs. Warren, it would be just what the system needs, and DeVos is championing exactly that.
4. More support for homeschooling?
In a 2013 interview with Philanthropy Roundtable, DeVos praised homeschooling as “another perfectly valid educational option.” She noted that “we’ve seen more and more people opt for homeschooling, including in urban areas. What you’re seeing is parents who are fed up with their lack of power to do anything about where their kids are assigned to go to school.”
“To the extent that homeschooling puts parents back in charge of their kids’ education, more power to them,” DeVos declared.
Homeschooling is legal in all fifty states, but each state has different rules. It is unclear what DeVos would do to help homeschooling in the Department of Education, but her support for various forms of school choice suggests she might encourage a more option-heavy atmosphere coming to the department.
5. Fewer students imprisoned for handing out pocket Constitutions.
Betsy DeVos and her family have donated to the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), a wide-ranging campus rights group which has championed students’ free speech and due process rights, among other things. Politico reported that DeVos and her husband gave $10,000 to the group, and Pennsylvania Senator Bob Casey alleged that she gave them $25,000 over four years.
This record is important, given the attacks on free speech and due process rights in recent years. Last month, students at Kellogg Community College (KCC) sued their university for arresting them and putting them in jail for handing out pocket copies of the U.S. Constitution.
“All public colleges … have the duty to protect and promote the First Amendment’s guarantee of free speech,” Alliance Defending Freedom’s Legal Counsel Travis Barham said in a statement on the case. “Ignoring this duty, KCC arrested these club supporters for exercising this freedom, and, ironically, for handing out copies of the very document — the Constitution — that protects what they were doing.”
KCC isn’t alone, however. Students at Grand Valley State University in Michigan were also threatened with arrest for handing out Constitutions. An NYU professor attacked police for defending free speech. This isn’t even to mention the hubbub over “trigger warnings” and “microaggressions.”
FIRE also works to defend the due process rights of students accused of sexual assault. Thanks to a debunked “rape culture” narrative, the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights (OCR) has established separate tribunals with lower standards for convicting students of sexual assault. These tribunals remove due process rights from the accused, creating a culture in which they are assumed guilty until proven innocent.
Even worse, the mentality of “victims’ rights” has spread to the legal system, where a judge recently ruled that an alleged victim would not be forced to give a deposition — despite the fact it would likely prove the accused innocent — because testifying would be “traumatizing” for her.
Worse, this system has arguably had a disproportionate impact on black students, especially black athletes.
When questioned by Senate Democrats, DeVos would not commit to the “rape culture” narrative, but she would not denounce it either. The authors of The Campus Rape Frenzy: The Attack on Due Process at America’s Universities openly wondered whether or not DeVos would protect due process rights.
It is important that those accused of sexual assault on college campuses are given a fair treatment in court, and that college students do not lose their free speech rights on campus. These are key causes for FIRE, and DeVos may indeed push the Department of Education in this direction.