Parents and teachers alike are nervous about the fate of public education under the Trump administration, and with good reason. Taking a look at Betsy DeVos’ track record with Michigan schools provides a terrifying glance into what might be the future of all U.S. public schools. The billionaire lobbyist has spent the last 20 years — and millions of her own dollars — shaping what the Detroit Free Press characterizes as a "deeply dysfunctional educational landscape — where failure is rewarded with opportunities for expansion and 'choice' means the opposite for tens of thousands of children."
Through her Great Lakes Education Project political action committee, DeVos has lobbied — successfully — to rescind the cap on charter schools in Michigan, and to block a state provision to require oversight in charter schools. Now, according to the Press, "just about anyone can open a charter school," and indeed they have; The New York Times reported that more than 100 new charters schools opened in Michigan between 2003 and 2016, despite the state losing 220,000 students in that same time frame. Also, 80 percent of these charter schools are for-profit, and with a lack of regulation, the state has no ability to close or even improve those that are underperforming (because there are no rules requiring their performance to meet a standard or outlining punishments if such standards aren't met).
And make no mistake, they are underperforming. In Detroit, only half of charter schools are doing any better than the public schools, which consistently score as the worst in the nation. Only 10 percent of high school seniors there score as "college ready" when tested on their reading skills, and a 2015 federal review of the worst-performing public schools in Michigan found the ratio of charters to be "unreasonably high." The ACLU of Michigan issued a statement urging Congress not to confirm DeVos, arguing that charters "serve only to exacerbate funding problems for cash-strapped public districts."
But why? What's DeVos' motive for pushing her agenda on public school systems, which she has never actually utilized herself? For that answer, look to the other prong in her approach to schools: the voucher system, which the Michigan ACLU referred to as "a misguided idea that diverts taxpayer dollars into private and parochial schools and perverts the bedrock American value of separation of church and state." In a 2001 interview obtained by Politico, DeVos said that her goal is to "confront the culture in which we all live today in ways that will continue to help advance God’s Kingdom." She complained that public schools had "displaced" churches as the center of communities, and expressed hope that government funding could entice churches to "get more and more active and engaged in education." Her priority doesn't appear to be children at all, rather, it's funding church-run schools with U.S. tax dollars, no matter what the cost to America's kids.