Many of President-Elect Donald Trump's cabinet selections have left Americans scratching their heads. He nominated an anti-environmentalist to run the EPA, a Black neurosurgeon and longtime political rival to become the new HUD secretary, and a racist Alabama senator as the next U.S. Attorney General.
The nomination that has parents of children who attend public schools raising eyebrows is the billionaire pro-charter school lobbyist pegged as the next Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos. This former four-time Michigan Republican Party chair and current chair of the Windquest Group has been called elitist, out of touch, a huge proponent for education as enterprise, inexperienced, and unqualified for the job. But, why should Black people in particular be worried?
For starters, DeVos is not a supporter of public schools (where most Black children attend) nor does she believe in government oversights to ensure that children are actually learning. She is a professional lobbyist and founder/chair of the American Federation of Children. Neither she nor her children has attended public schools. She has never worked as an educator nor as a school administrator. She is a woman with a different kind of agenda.
For over 20 years, she and her family have donated millions of dollars to promote the establishment and expansion of charter schools in Michigan. It now has the highest proportion of for-profit schools in the nation. Most of these schools, however, perform below state academic standards. DeVos has vigorously lobbied against regulatory initiatives giving free-reign to these institutions to govern as they see fit.
Her nomination has been met with much resistance. Barbara Madeloni, president of the Massachusetts Teachers Association was quoted by Mass Live as saying, "Betsy DeVos is a terrible choice for U.S. Secretary of Education, for our students, and for our nation's public schools. Her longtime priority as a big-money donor to privatization causes has been to undermine public education by promoting vouchers and charter schools. She would continue those efforts as part of the Trump administration," she continued.
As many as 80 percent of Black people surveyed in the U.S. are in favor of school choice. While it may be a good option in theory, execution leaves a lot to be desired. In many states, the charter system allows individuals to open schools using public funds which, many have argued, hurts existing public schools financially. Monies are diverted from public schools making it more difficult for them to provide quality educators, books and resources, technology, and transportation. If unregulated, charters can create de facto segregation.
Detractors assert that this is exactly what has happened in Michigan and the same thing will happen across the country with DeVos in charge. Public schools will suffer and eventually close while charter schools will be rewarded with more campuses filled with Black, Brown, and poor students who are not learning.
The whole charter school debate hinges on the states' ability to provide autonomy to private institutions without sacrificing accountability. The widespread practice of increasing enrollment to fatten the bottom line without improving the quality of the students' education is a trend that led to the NAACP's call for a moratorium on charter schools.
In a statement on its website, National NAACP Board Chair Roslyn M. Brock made the following statement:
“We are moving forward to require that charter schools receive the same level of oversight, civil rights protections and provide the same level of transparency, and we require the same of traditional public schools,” Chairman Brock said. “Our decision today is driven by a long held principle and policy of the NAACP that high quality, free, public education should be afforded to all children.”
Public school proponents see charters as a way to turn education into big business. If DeVos' track record is any indication of how she will oversee the Department of Education, then parents, educators, and administrators alike are justified in their skepticism. As usual, Black and other minority children will suffer the most. Your child's education is not DeVos' priority. That's why you should be worried.