Betsy DeVos made Senate history this week as she became the first cabinet nominee to require the Vice-President’s vote to break a tie and push through their appointment.
Despite the win, DeVos, who spent more than two decades promoting charter schools and school voucher programs, faces an uphill battle in mending fences with educators across the US after a bitter confirmation process.
Opposed by half the Senate, she faced criticism for her antipathy toward public schools, even ridicule for lack of experience and confusion during her confirmation hearing.
Here are seven reasons why she is a terrible choice.
1) DRAINING THE SWAMP?
DeVos was brought up the daughter of a billionaire industrialist, is heir to a $5.1 billion fortune though her marriage, has donated $5.3 million to political candidates and groups over the past five years and her family has given possibly as much as $200 million to the Republican Party over the years.
Writing about her family’s political donations in 1997, she said: “I have decided to stop taking offence at the suggestion that we are buying influence
“Now I simply concede the point. They are right.”
The left-leaning Center for American Progress, reports that her family has given nearly $1 million to more than 20 senators who voted on her confirmation.
2) SHE DIDN’T EVEN LIKE TRUMP NOT TOO LONG AGO
During the Republican presidential primaries, DeVos donated to Trump rivals, Jeb Bush and Carly Fiorina.
In March of last year she described Trump as an “interloper” who “does not represent the Republican Party”.
Less than a year later she was all platitudes.
3) SHE HAS NO RELEVANT EXPERIENCE FOR THE ROLE
She does have lots of experience only it’s all the wrong sort, being the Chair of the Michigan Republican Party from 1996-2000 and again from 2003-05
After her nomination last year the Detroit Free Press wrote: “DeVos isn’t an educator, or an education leader.
“She’s not an expert in pedagogy or curriculum or school governance. In fact, she has no relevant credentials or experience for a job setting standards and guiding dollars for the nation’s public schools.
“She is, in essence, a lobbyist - someone who has used her extraordinary wealth to influence the conversation about education reform, and to bend that conversation to her ideological convictions despite the dearth of evidence supporting them.”
DeVos, having attended prestigious private establishments as a youngster, also has no experience of the public school system in America.
She is a vocal advocate of school vouchers that would publicly fund more students to go to private schools.
While on the face of it this may sound like a good idea, in reality it would steer funds away from the public school system, perhaps as much as $20 billion if Trump’s comments as a candidate are anything to go by.
4) GRIZZLY BEARS
Yup, you read that right.
During DeVos’s disastrous confirmation hearing she actually said this:
When asked if she thought guns had any place in schools, DeVos said it was a decision best left to states to decide.
After some more stuttering she then said that a school discussed earlier in the hearing “probably has a gun to protect from grizzlies”.
5) DUBIOUS DONATIONS
DeVos’s parents, Edgar and Elsa, founded the Prince Foundation, described as a major funder of the religious right.
DeVos was listed as vice-president from 2001-14 though at her confirmation hearing she claimed this was due to a “clerical error”.
The Prince Foundation, amongst other things, has:
... given $6.2 million to the Family Research Council, a former division of Focus on the Family that became an independent nonprofit in 1992. The FRC has fought against same-sex marriage and anti-bullying programs—and is listed as an “anti-LGBT hate group” by the Southern Poverty Law Centre.
6) RELIGION GENERALLY
Speaking at a gathering of conservative Christian philanthropists in 2001, she said of her efforts in educational reform:
Our desire is to be in that Shephelah, and to confront the culture in which we all live today in ways that will continue to help advance God’s Kingdom, but not to stay in our own faith territory,”
The New York Times also reports that:
The evangelical pastor and broadcaster D. James Kennedy, whose Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church is a beneficiary of DeVos largess, said in a 1986 sermon that children in public education were being “brainwashed in Godless secularism”. More recently, in 2005, he told followers to “exercise godly dominion” over “every aspect and institution of human society,” including the government.
Then there is the issue of “intelligent design”, a modern offshoot of Creationism, the idea that the Earth is only around 5,000 years old and was created exactly as depicted in Genesis.
I’ve never really been political until now and hearing how unqualified she is has really sparked my action. As a science teacher from Indiana who tends to focus on evolution, I’m familiar with Pence’s viewpoint [editor’s note: Mike Pence does not seem to believe in evolution] and it seems like DeVos shares the same idea on evolution and creationism. That, paired with her utter lack of knowledge about anything education-related has me extremely concerned on what she’s going to try to do.
7) CONFLICTS OF INTEREST
DeVos and her husband, Dick, are investors and board members of Neurocore, a group of brain performance centres with an apparent exemplary record in curing depression and anxiety.
The company’s self-stated achievements have been largely rubbished by the scientific community.
DeVos has said she will keep her stake in the company, valued at between $5 million and $25 million, but would step down as a board member.
As the company also attempts to help schoolchildren with ADHD, Democrats raised concerns she could financially benefit from changes to the education system that she may make.