“How wealthy the wealthy are does matter. If we allow great wealth to accumulate in the pockets of a few, then great wealth can set our political agenda and shape our political culture — and the agenda and the culture that emerge will not welcome efforts to make American work for all Americans.” ~ Sam Pizzigati
We need to be honest in admitting that in modern-day America, money talks.
Not only does money talk, it sings and shouts, “Hey everybody, I’m over here!”
This explains how Bet$y DeVo$, a person with absolutely no experience or direct knowledge of public education can be nominated by President-elect Donald Trump to the most important education position in America.
Bet$y DeVo$ credentials for this federal cabinet position are straight-forward: She has lots of money and a proven, decades-old track record of attacking public education.
By appointing someone with little regard for the work we do, Trump has spat in the face of all who work tirelessly for children in public schools throughout the country.
Trump’s choice solidifies the very real concerns many in education have about the lack of respect and the callous disregard for our profession. It appears that the President-elect has doubled down on previous efforts to privatize and profit from one of the cornerstones of our democracy.
The DeVo$ appointment certainly signals that Trump is serious about the $20 billion school voucher plan he rolled out on the campaign trail.
His proposal would potentially redirect huge swaths of the federal education budget away from school districts and toward low-income parents, allowing them to spend a voucher at a public or private school of their choice, potentially including for-profit, virtual, and religious schools.
The positive aspect of DeVo$’s nomination is that it brings her agenda out from the shadows and into the direct light of day. A quick search of the internet confirms what we can expect from a DeVo$ department of education.
For the past 15 years, DeVo$ has used her family money and influence to push an agenda to transfer public tax dollars over to unaccountable for-profit corporations. We know she will promote education savings accounts (ESAs) and other vouchers schemes and that she will work to funnel public money to church-sponsored schools.
To steal from the latest Geico commercials, “it’s what she does.”
If you recall, Bet$y DeVo$ has spent the past few years serving as the Chairman of the American Federation for Children (AFC), an organization which has as its vision “the transformation of public education by breaking down barriers to educational choice.”
Among other political activities, AFC has worked in the shadows to fund the legislative campaigns of hundreds of school-choice proponents across the nation. In recent years, they were the ones who contributed to the successful Oklahoma mudslinging campaigns against Melissa Abdo in 2014 and Lisa Kramer this year, just to name a few.
In the AFC’s Post-election memo entitled “2016 Election Marks Historic Wins for Educational Choice,” DeVo$ and her group recently bragged about their successes in Oklahoma this past election season. Notice in the highlighted sentence how AFC issues a not-so-subtle fiat for the legislators they helped to elect (see chart).
Opponents in Oklahoma chose to make this year’s primary and general elections a litmus test on parental choice issues. It backfired as we beat their state legislative candidates soundly in the primary and ran the table in the general election races. These efforts create the perfect narrative and momentum leading into next year’s legislative session to enact robust ESA legislation and expand charter schools.”
Yes, money talks … and it typically demands an answer! In fact, Mr$ DeVo$ has been very clear about how others should respond to her “political gifts”:
“I have decided to stop taking offense,” DeVos wrote, “at the suggestion that we are buying influence. Now I simply concede the point. They are right. We do expect something in return. We expect to foster a conservative governing philosophy consisting of limited government and respect for traditional American virtues. We expect a return on our investment.”
I think we can count on each of the Oklahoma legislators listed above to provide a return on the investment made by Mr$. DeVo$ and AFC with their future votes on school choice issues.
We know that school choice is one of those policy ideas that just never goes away. With the DeVo$ nomination, the push for vouchers will be injected with a dose of steroids for the next few years, in Oklahoma and across our nation.
For people like Bet$y DeVo$, Eli Broad, Bill Gates, the Koch brothers, and others in the American plutocracy, vouchers are an irresistible way to unlock all those public tax dollars and turn them into private profits. They believe that education will improve if we just treat it like a business and introduce competition.
Yet, public education is not a business. Public education is not a competition. In competition and business there are winners and losers. Public education should be about nurturing our most valuable resource – our children.
And when it comes to something as important as the education of our future generations of children, why should only parents with children in schools have a voice?
When we yield all of the responsibility and control of education choices to parents alone, we disenfranchise the rest of the public.
Everybody benefits from a system of roadways in this country– even people who don’t drive cars– because it allows a hundred other systems of service and commerce to function well. Likewise, we all benefit from police, fire, and other community services, even if we do not directly use those services.
School choice and voucher schemes treat parents as if they are the only stakeholders in education. They are not.
We all depend on a society in which people are reasonably well-educated. We all depend on a society in which people can take care of themselves and be productive, contributing members of our communities. We all depend on a vibrant, high quality system of public education.
This is why everybody gets to vote for school board members and on school bond elections– not just the people who have kids in school. Everybody has a stake in the students who come out of schools, and every taxpayer has a stake in the money spent on schools.
I don’t have a problem paying my fair share of taxes to support the common good; to ensure my community is safe and well-governed; and to ensure our children are provided a quality education.
Yet, in Donald Trump’s and Bet$y DeVo$’s worldview, I should not have a voice in public education because I no longer have children in school.
I do believe our children deserve a Secretary of Education who is an advocate for public education not privatization.
I suppose the one bright spot is that the battle lines in the school choice/voucher war are now clearly drawn. The voucher wolves have decided to bring their game out from the shadows. They have grown impatient and are tired of waiting for timid state legislators to act. They have adopted the axiom, “if you can’t beat them, buy them.”
As a result, a serious battle over the future of American education is about to begin.
Will money win the day or will there be enough of us to shout loud and often enough to silence its voice?
My money is on us. I hope I’m right.