A strong, well-funded public education system is our first and perhaps only real hope against the rising, dismal tide of ignorance. We need to educate everyone for the "jobs of the future." We need to educate everyone in the ways of rhetoric and critical thinking so they don't vote against their own interests. We need to educate everyone about sex and consent. Today's vote to confirm Betsy DeVos, a nominee who was rushed through the process and confirmed only after Vice President Mike Pence's historical tie-breaking vote, is a huge setback to those goals.
Ethically, the Republican super-donor and religious school advocate is entering the government tangled up in financial interests. Senator Chuck Schumer spoke on this issue yesterday during the 24-hour emergency debate session:
In my mind, she is the least qualified nominee in a historically unqualified cabinet. On conflicts of interest, she ranks among the worst. In her ethics agreement, which was delivered to the committee after the first hearing, it was revealed she'd keep interests in three family-owned trusts that have holdings in companies that could be affected by matters related to the Department of Education. Independent ethics watchdogs have criticized her ethics agreement for failing to deal with these conflicts of interests.
Practically and philosophically, DeVos wants to privatize public education. She's likely to rubber stamp Trump's plan to blow up the Title I program, which grants federal money to schools that serve a lot of kids from low-income families, and, by way of magics, turn that program's $14 billion into $20 billion worth of vouchers for the country's poorest students.
"But turning Title I into vouchers wouldn’t be enough on its own to start a private school exodus," Libby Nelson explains in Vox. "Dividing $14 billion in federal funding among the 25 million students poor enough to count as 'disadvantaged' yields a voucher of $580. Private school tuition costs, on average, nearly $11,000 per year."
In order to raise the amount of the voucher, Nelson says, Trump would have to cut the number of students considered "low-income" by 14 million, and then task the states to come up with the $110 billion needed to fund the program everywhere. Good luck.
Reminder: Washington State supreme court is still fining the state legislature $100,000 per day for not fulfilling their constitutional mandate to "amply fund" public schools. One wonders if Republicans in the state legislature will be any more willing to "amply fund" a voucher program, especially one that will likely lead to greater racial segregation in the schools, and that will disadvantage already disadvantaged rural students. People who live in areas with a school every 50 or 60 miles don't exactly have a ton of—or any—"choices" about where they can spend their vouchers.
In a statement, Patty Murray, ranking member of the HELP committee that spearheaded the fight against DeVos, says she knows "millions of people across the country" have been "activated and energized by opposition to [DeVos's] nomination." Knowing this, she plans to "fight by their side to hold Betsy DeVos accountable and push her to do the right thing for parents and students."
That meaningless-sounding statement of encouragement isn't totally meaningless. By flooding the phone lines, a large number of constituents in Alaska and Maine ultimately convinced their Senators to oppose DeVos, so those Senators say. A steady eye on DeVos and a will to pressure congressional leaders to slow or stop her mission to privatize public education might help. It'll be like fighting that flu that was going around last month, but for four fucking years.
The students of New York, who are right now staging a walk out in protest over DeVos's confirmation, seem to have the right idea: