Just before Thanksgiving, President-elect Donald Trump announced that he would nominate Betsy DeVos to be Secretary of Education. DeVos is a Michigan philanthropist – her husband is Amway heir Dick DeVos – and former chair of the Michigan Republican Party who has come under fire from critics who point out that she has little experience working in public schools.
DeVos and her husband are also charter school advocates who have pushed for more charters and private school vouchers in cities like Detroit. But reviews from their home State are often less than enthusiastic. Many say that the proliferation of charter schools in Detroit without much-needed quality controls contributed to the downward trajectory of school performance in the city. But her support for choice programs may also indicate that she would take actions while at the U.S. Department of Education (ED) to eliminate federal restrictions on charter schools and implement new school choice programs, like the local funding flexibility pilot that is part of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), but that this administration has made no moves toward implementing.
As Secretary, DeVos is also expected to take aim at some of the regulatory and implementation efforts put forth by the current administration. For example, she may immediately rescind some of the more controversial agency guidance documents, like the joint guidance with the Department of Justice on transgender student accommodations or the Dear Colleague letters on how to deal with sexual assault at the college level. She is also expected to rescind the controversial supplement, not supplant regulations promulgated under ESSA – if Congress does not act to do so first.
DeVos has been heartily endorsed by Senate education committee Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-TN), with whom she met this week. Alexander, himself a former Secretary of Education, called her an “excellent choice” and said his Committee would move quickly to approve her nomination in January. As Secretary, Alexander said, DeVos would be tasked with “implement[ing] the new law fixing No Child Left Behind just as Congress wrote it, reversing the trend to a national school board and restoring to states, governors, school boards, teachers and parents greater responsibility for improving education in their local communities.”
Others were not so enthusiastic about the pick, however. Senator Patty Murray (D-WA), the senior Democrat on Alexander’s Committee, said she had reservations about DeVos. And American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten called DeVos the "most ideological, anti-public education nominee" in the history of ED. “In nominating DeVos,” she added, the President-elect “makes it loud and clear that his education policy will focus on privatizing, defunding and destroying public education in America.”
Andrew Kreighbaum, “Trump’s Choice for Education Secretary,” Inside Higher Ed, November 28, 2016.
Alyson Klein, “School Choice Advocate Betsy DeVos Named Ed. Sec.: What Does That Mean?” Education Week: Politics K-12, November 23, 2016.