A Shaky Start In Washington

Education minister Betsy DeVos’ first days as a federal politician in the Trump Administration started out a little rough. First of all, her Senate confirmation hearing did not go smoothly. Her answers were said to be very shaky and insecure, and comedians made jokes about her apparent lack of basic knowledge of public schools. After her confirmation, she started her job as Minister of Education. The first issue that occurred, was whether to allow transgender employees of educational institutions to use the bathroom of their gender identity. Now former Minister of Justice, Jeff Sessions, was in favor of continuing this guideline from the previous administration, and this made for a bad start for the relationship between the two. One of her aides told a group of transgender education employees that she had tried to make the decision go the other way, but she didn’t in any way reveal publicly that she was against Trump on this issue. It would seem that she was in favor of the change from when it was first presented. Ms. DeVos told The Conservative Political Action Conference that this guideline was an example of the Obama administration overreaching.



Betsy DeVos, 59, grew up in Holland in West Michigan. She started working in her father billionaire auto-parts company, and he, like her, supported initiatives that fight for Christian conservative values as a philanthropist. Her brother is the founder and CEO of Blackwater, the controversial private security company conducting operations in Iraq. Her husband is even richer than herself, being the heir to Amway. He also tried his luck in politics by running for governor of Michigan in 2006 but lost to his opponent.



DeVos’ political ideology is right-wing, Christian, and conservative. She is a strong supporter of charter schools, and critics would say she tries to weaken the public school system. Charter schools are privately run and administered, with no federal permanent standard for performance and quality, and the funding is federal tax money. This system started out as an experiment but has since grown, and some predict it will be larger than the public school system in the future. Still, more than half of American students attend public schools. After taking office, Ms. DeVos has been on several trips to Florida to promote and speak at charter schools. This is the state that gets the highest amount of federal funding and this is not proportional to the number of students.



The highest concentration of charter schools is found in Detroit, a city in her home state. The schools of Detroit have a nation-wide reputation of being extremely low-performing, and there have even been lawsuits by former students claiming that are illiterate after completing their education. Representatives of both parties tried to pass a bill that would force failed charter schools to close and permit the opening of new ones. Ms. DeVos created a group called The Great Lakes Education Project, which fought against it and won. The now-minister commented that the Detroit public school system should simply be put down.



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