On Tuesday, January 31, U.S. Senators will make important decisions about public knowledge, learning, and economic opportunity. They will vote to affirm or deny the confirmation of Betsy DeVos to Secretary of Education.
I am a resident of the state of Michigan where Betsy DeVos has had a significant impact in devolving the systems of education. With respect to Senators and voters of both major political parties, I want to speak in the strongest way possible to encourage us to work and vote against her confirmation.
I do not believe this is a partisan issue. I believe this is a moral issue.
I want to speak about the record of Betsy DeVos in Michigan, particularly about her impact upon schools in Detroit. There is something deeply troubling and thoroughly immoral when systems profit off of children. Likewise, it is deeply troubling and immoral when leaders create and support systems that disadvantage children purposefully in order to make money.
As frank as those statements may be, I am not being hyperbolic when I say that this is happening in Detroit.
Betsy DeVos has supported the creation of many for-profit charter schools in Detroit. Charter schools are controversial in and of themselves; there are national debates about how they impact the funding of public schools. That being said, in some places around the nation, they have had successful educational outcomes.
In many cases in Detroit, however, they have not produced those successful educational outcomes. On average, test scores in Detroit charter schools are just slightly higher than test scores in Detroit Public Schools. Children are struggling across the board. Through her political donations and influence upon legislation, Betsy DeVos has played a major role in these outcomes.
Here is the dangerous combination that incentivizes poor education for children:
1) These charter schools are for-profit
2) There is currently no unifying accountability structure in place to ensure that these schools are serving their students well. Betsy DeVos donated huge sums of money to defeat a legislative effort which sought to create a unified accountability structure for Detroit charter schools.
That combination creates a set of incentives which allows schools to a) provide fewer resources (books, technology, quality teachers) to their students, so that. . . b) they make more money.
That is a moral issue.
There are long-range impacts for this moral failing. It deprives children of a quality education, and that impacts their economic wellbeing in the future. And when schools are incentivized to provide poor education, it additionally bolsters the incentive for for-profit prisons, a reality which needs to be thoroughly dismantled. Inmates inside for-profit prisons often provide labor for for-profit companies. It is supply and demand but on the backs of real, human lives. This is one expression of the school to prison pipeline in action.
I saw many videos from Betsy DeVos’ confirmation hearing, and I am deeply concerned about the answers she gave. I am equally concerned -- and in some instances, even more concerned -- about the answers she refused to give.
- BetsyDeVos did not rule out defunding public schools altogether.
- When asked if K-12 public, charter, and private schools that receive federal funding should have equal accountability, Betsy DeVos spoke a refrain over and over: "I believe in accountability." Every time, she was pressed to say she believes in equal accountability, but she would not do so:
- In the very same video above, Betsy DeVos said that the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act should be addressed and implemented by states, even though it is a federal law that provides federal funding. This does not result in equal access for children with disabilities.
There are many concerns, and others have written about the number of astonishing comments Betsy DeVos made at her confirmation hearing. It is important that we act to deny her confirmation.
Education is the pathway to empowerment. Poor education is a pathway to disempowerment and an unjust society. This is not a partisan issue. This is a moral issue. Regardless of your Presidential vote in November, I ask you to call upon your Senators and request that they deny this confirmation.
Renee Roederer is a Presbyterian (U.S.A.) minister and the founding organizer of Michigan Nones and Dones, a community in Southeast Michigan for people who are “spiritually curious but institutionally suspicious.” This community includes people who are religiously unaffiliated (the Nones), people who have left established forms of institutional churches (the Dones), and people who remain connected to particular faith traditions but seek new, emerging visions for their expression.
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