Karen Magee: The DeVos Threat To New York State

Jan 24, 2017

In New York State and our nation, public education is the great equalizer.

It’s the only one of our national institutions where Americans of different races, religions, ethnicities and economic backgrounds come together each day.

Our neighborhood public schools do more than present an opportunity for every child to get a great education.  They are places where children from different backgrounds come to know each other as people, learning that, despite their differences, they are bonded together by their humanity.

The result is that our public education system is a wonderful mosaic of community – and that helps make our nation great.

That wonderful mosaic, unfortunately, is now under threat by the nomination of Betsy DeVos as U.S. Education Secretary.

It doesn’t matter who you supported for president:  The DeVos nomination should have you very concerned.

DeVos lacks the necessary qualifications and experience for the job.  She has never taught in a public school nor served on a school board.  She did not attend public schools, nor send her children to public schools.  She is the most unqualified nominee since the post of U.S. Education Secretary was established.

DeVos is a lobbyist for extreme educational causes, and big donor to political ideologues.  

In fact, since the year 2000, DeVos and her family have contributed nearly $48 million to politicians and soft money campaigns aimed at destabilizing neighborhood public schools.  Over the last two years, she gave at least $800,000 to 20 current U.S. senators.

And, what did Betsy DeVos have to say about that?  Quote:  “We expect a return on our investment.”

If that doesn’t give you chills, consider what DeVos the ideologue did to public education in her home state of Michigan.

There, DeVos used her money and her influence to undermine public education, and to privatize schools … creating huge profits for school operators on the public’s dime.

She helped create a Wild West of for-profit charter schools, while fighting against any accountability for how the public’s money was spent.

Her hometown paper … the Detroit News … recently wrote that DeVos’ money and influence indeed has provided plenty of choices for parents of school-age children … but what remains in short supply is quality.

About half of all the for-profit charter schools in Michigan rank at the very bottom of the rankings.  As a whole, Michigan’s education status has slipped among the states and DeVos has fought AGAINST more accountability for schools.

There’s already political talk that DeVos will try to divert Title I money to fund a national voucher program.

In New York, that would put at risk up to $1 billion dollars in federal aid to our already under-funded neighborhood schools – money that is now used to help students succeed in the classroom.

Siphoning that money out of public education would severely weaken the underpinnings of schools that provide opportunity for every child, and the very institution that binds us together as a nation.

So, no matter who you voted for in the presidential election, you have a stake in protecting the goals and ideals of public education.  For the sake of students and public education, you have a stake in ensuring that Betsy DeVos does not get her way.

Karen E. Magee is president of the 600,000-member New York State United Teachers.

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