Society

America's Largest Teachers Union: No To Betsy DeVos

| by Robert Fowler

The head of the American Federation of Teachers, the largest teachers union in the United States, has voiced heated disapproval of President-elect Donald Trump's choice to head the Department of Education, billionaire Betsy DeVos.

On Jan. 9, AFT president Randi Weingarten blasted the nomination of DeVos for secretary of education during an event at the National Press Club. In Weingarten's view, DeVos is an existential threat to public education, The Huffington Post reports.

"Betsy DeVos lacks the qualifications and experience to serve as secretary of education," Weingarten said. "Her drive to privatize education is demonstrably destructive to public schools and to the educational success of all of our children."

The AFT president added that she suspected DeVos would work to undermine the Obama administration's Every Student Succeeds Act and could spark a national battle over how to provide education to children.

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"If DeVos is confirmed -- if she shatters this hard-won consensus, if she reignites the education wars -- she will demonstrate that her ultimate goal is to undermine public schools, the schools that 90 percent of American children attend."

If confirmed, DeVos would be leading a federal agency empowered to make decisions for all U.S. public educational institutions. A longtime advocate of charter schools, her worldview does fit in with Trump's campaign pledge to invest $20 billion in school choice for disadvantaged children, Newsweek reports.

DeVos hails from one of the most politically influential families of Michigan, with its combined wealth totaling billions of dollars.

On Jan. 10, the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions announced that it would delay her confirmation by a week because the Office of Government Ethics was overwhelmed by the sheer size of her wealth while investigating her potential conflicts of interest, NPR reports.

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DeVos and her husband have helped shape the education system of Detroit through their philanthropy and political lobbying. Since 2009, Detroit has ranked the worst among America's largest cities in math and reading scores.

Having never attended or worked in the public school system, DeVos has drawn enormous controversy from teachers unions due to her 2000 effort to use public funding for charter schools in Michigan and for advocating for national voucher programs.

Kim Phillips-Fein, a historian of the conservative movement, believes that DeVos and her husband advocate for private schools because they are ideologically opposed to organized labor, which teachers unions represent.

"They have this moralized sense of the free market that leads to this total program to turn back the ideas of the New Deal, the welfare state," Phillips-Fein told The New York Times.

DeVos has the endorsement of one influential former lawmaker: former Republican Gov. Mitt Romney of Massachusetts.

"As a highly successful businesswoman, DeVos doesn't need the job now, nor will she be looking for an education job later," Romney wrote in an op-ed for The Washington Post. "Her key qualification is that she cares deeply about our children and will do everything in her power to offer them a brighter future."

Before Weingarten delivered her speech against DeVos, spokesman Ed Patru of the group Friends of Betsy DeVos issued a statement deriding the AFT president's stance against the potential secretary of education, saying that "in a nutshell, labor’s opposition to Betsy is about loss of power and turf."

Sources: The Huffington Post, The New York Times, Newsweek, NPR, The Washington Post, Detroit News / Photo Credit: Keith Almli/Wikimedia Commons

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