North Carolina now has an interest in the fight over the nomination of Betsy DeVos of Michigan to be the U.S. Secretary of Education. Margaret Spellings, president of the University of North Carolina system and a former education secretary under President George W. Bush, backs DeVos with enthusiasm and publicly.
Spellings is welcome to her view, and as a former holder of the position for which DeVos is nominated is a natural person to be asked for comment. But as head of the state’s public university system, Spellings should have stayed out of this controversy. DeVos, like her husband the heir to vast family wealth, has been an education advocate all right, but for more charter schools, and for vouchers for private schools coming from public funds. She supports for-profit charters as well.
In short, she’s the wrong person to be the chief advocate for American education, much of which is public education. Her nomination speaks of President Donald Trump’s inclination to choose people for high office who are 1. very wealthy and 2. guaranteed to create political upheaval.
DeVos did not do particularly well in her confirmation hearings, and she’s simply never had much to do with public education. If she is confirmed, it’s likely to be by a single vote in the Senate — that of Vice President Mike Pence, who’d cast a tie-breaker. That’s hardly a mandate for someone to serve in a job that affects tens of millions of American families and one in which the occupant needs to be a strong supporter of public education.
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North Carolina Sen. Richard Burr is as usual a down-the-line supporter of whatever President Trump wants. But he’s also received over $40,000 in campaign contributions from members of the DeVos family. And Burr and Sen. Thom Tillis as usual don’t care much about constituent input. A strong phone call campaign opposing DeVos has gotten little response from North Carolina’s senators, who apparently aren’t interested in the opinions of those they’re supposed to represent.
President Trump made great show during his campaign of promising to “drain the swamp,” another way of saying he was going to break the hold of the Washington establishment. But he’s in the process of breaking the government, period, appointing to his Cabinet people with strong conservative ideology but not much government experience and an inclination to dismantle regulation in the very agencies they’ll oversee.
DeVos seems to fit that mold, and the Department of Education is no place to experiment and put politics first. It’s one thing to have a conservative take on education, but it’s quite another to have a secretary who doesn’t seem to care much for public schools, and in the name of “school choice” seems willing to privatize American public education. Betsy DeVos has done little to show that won’t be her aim should she win confirmation — which is why she shouldn’t.