Archives for category: Betsy DeVos

As a new year begins, and as a new administration prepares to take charge of the U.S. government, our fight to support and improve public education goes on.

The Network for Public Education is and will continue to be the single largest voluntary group advocating on behalf of public schools. We had humble beginnings, starting with a bank account of a couple of thousand dollars and a board of enthusiastic parents and educators. We now have a full-time executive director (Carol Burris) who is helped by three amazing part-time workers.

We are not like the City Fund, which opened its doors in 2018 with $200 million in the bank (thanks to billionaire John Arnold and billionaire Reed Hastings). The City Fund exists to push high-stakes testing and to destroy community-based, democratically-controlled public schools. It has no members; we have about 350,000 who work with us. The “reformers” have tons of money and malevolent intentions.

Last year, we issued two bombshell reports that showed the failure of the federal Charter Schools Program, which doles out $440 million every year, mostly to corporate charter chains. We discovered and documented–using U.S. Department of Education data–that about 35-40 percent of the federally funded charters either never opened or closed not long after opening. They are the day lilies of American education, and they waste money that should go to support under-resourced public schools.

We published a report about the 1,200 or so charters that double-dipped into CARES funds intended to save small businesses. The charters, whose funding from public sources, never ceased, collected from $1-2 Billion from the Paycheck Protection Program. All of the data are available in public sources, but you have to know where to look to see that some very savvy charters and charter lobbyists cleared huge sums of PPP money (some collected $1 million or more) while public schools each collected only about $134,500.

We will continue to support real public schools, the kind that are publicly accountable to public officials. We will push the Biden administration to regulate or eliminate the federal Charter Schools Program and stop funding failure. We will fight against high-stakes testing and the misuse of standardized tests.

We will demand a suspension of federally mandated testing this spring and turn our energies toward removing the federal mandate for annual testing, which has manifestly failed to provide equity or excellence. We will remind the public that tests do not reduce achievement gaps; they are measures, not remedies. Mainly, they measure family income. Why waste hundreds of millions of dollars measuring family income?

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Rick Hess conducts an “exit interview” with Betsy DeVos, which was published at Education Week. Rick is a fellow at the conservative American Enterprise Institute, which is funded in part by DeVos.

DeVos came to Washington to destroy public education, and she failed. She bitterly dismisses the “entrenched interests” and bureaucrats who frustrated her ambitions to turn billions of public dollars over to religious and private schools and to extinguish teachers’ unions altogether. During her confirmation, she was unable to answer direct questions about education policy, and she was ultimately confirmed only when Vice-President Pence cast a tie-breaking vote. This had never happened before. In poll after poll, DeVos was characterized as the most unpopular member of Trump’s Cabinet. She did her best to skewer the Department’s Office of Civil Rights, to abandon college students who were defrauded by for-profit colleges, to divert COVID funding to elite private schools. Fortunately, most of the changes–maybe all of them–will be reversed by the Biden administration. Here is a fun fact that DeVos doesn’t mention: She is right that the number of voucher programs has grown, but she fails to point out that fewer than 1% of American students use vouchers. Nor does she mention that most independent voucher studies find that students in voucher schools are worse off than their peers in public schools. When a 2017 evaluation of the voucher program in D.C. reported that the students in voucher schools actually lost ground, DeVos didn’t care. She said: “When school choice policies are fully implemented, there should not be differences in achievement among the various types of schools.” Nonetheless, in this exit interview, DeVos continues to promote voucher propaganda, and Hess doesn’t challenge her.

Here is an excerpt:

Rick: Back in 2017, your confirmation process was remarkably contentious. Looking back, what did you take from that and how did it affect your approach to the role?

Secretary DeVos: It confirmed my belief that entrenched interests were going to do their best to protect the status quo, their power, and their jobs no matter what. It gave me a clear-eyed look at the uphill battle I knew we would face as we pivoted the federal focus away from adults’ interests to what’s best for kids.

Rick: You came to your position as an outsider—how has that mattered?

DeVos: Like I’ve said before, I didn’t know all the things you “can’t do.” So I came in with fresh eyes and a laser focus on rethinking the way we approach all aspects of work at the department.

Rick: What surprised you most about the job?

DeVos: A couple of things. First, that the bureaucracy is even more bureaucratic than any of us could have ever imagined, and it takes longer to get anything done than I could have ever imagined. Second, seeing firsthand just how difficult it is for people in Washington to see beyond what is and imagine what could be. Third, and importantly, I am consistently inspired by what parents will do for their kids’ educations. I’ve met single mothers driving Uber in addition to holding two other jobs just so their children can learn in schools that work for them. I’ve met parents who didn’t wait for permission to home school their children nor did they wait for their schools to open this past spring, establishing their own learning pods and microschools so their children could continue learning. I suppose I’m not surprised by the ingenuity of America’s parents, but I am inspired by them and their students.

Rick: For you, what’s one anecdote that really captures what it’s like to be secretary of education?

DeVos: I remember talking with a group of young African American students in a school where they were benefiting from the Milwaukee voucher program and looking outside at a sea of middle-aged white protestors who apparently thought those students didn’t deserve that opportunity. I think that’s a pretty good microcosm of what my experience in office was like.

Rick: What was the most useful preparation you had to be secretary?

DeVos: I’ve dedicated more than 30 years of my life to fighting for students, starting in my community, then throughout Michigan and in states across the country. I know what parents want and need for their children’s educations because I am one and because I’ve fought alongside them to have the same choices and opportunities for their kids that I had for mine. People also forget this is ultimately a management job, not a teaching job. Among other things, you run one of the nation’s largest banks. Having actually led large organizations was very important preparation.

Rick: If you had to point to just one, what’s the single data point that really illuminates your thinking about American education?

DeVos: Half of lower-income 4th graders are below-basic readers, according to the most recent Nation’s Report Card. If the system is failing to teach the most basic of skills to the most vulnerable of students, how can anyone defend it? Worse yet, for the past quarter century, there has been no meaningful change in test scores, yet as taxpayers, we spend more and more for education each year. And by too many measures, these gaps are even widening. Perhaps the largest gap is between American students and their international peers. We’re not in the top 10—in anything. That’s not because our students aren’t capable; it’s because “the system” is culpable for failing them. And, if I could point to a couple more data points, there are currently millions of kids on charter school wait lists, and 3 out of 4 parents who say, if given the opportunity, they would choose a different school than their assigned one for their child. Parents are making clear what they think the solution is to the system’s failures.

Rick: What’s one thing that advocates and reformers should understand about federal education policy which they may not already?

DeVos: It needs your voices. Reformers rightly focus on the states, which are in control of education, but ignoring Washington comes with peril. Remember, a different president and secretary most certainly would have implemented the Every Student Succeeds Act in significantly more controlling ways.

Rick: What would you regard as your most significant accomplishment in office?

DeVos: Hands down, it’s changing the national conversation around what K-12 education can and should be. The concept of school choice is more popular across racial, ethnic, and political lines than ever before. I’m also proud of the team’s work on the historic Title IX rule which codified into law protections for all students.

Rick: And what would you say is your biggest regret?

DeVos: In four years, we set out to change the course set by the past 40 years of the department’s history. Though we’ve made remarkable progress, as long as there are students stuck in schools that do not meet their needs, the work is not yet done. I believe that all children have unlimited potential and promise, and so every single one of them deserves the opportunity to find their educational fit. I regret that we didn’t push harder and earlier in the term.

Rick: Throughout your tenure, your emphasis has been on expanding educational choice for students and families. How would you evaluate your record on this score?

DeVos: My team and I have worked very hard to advance education freedom—or school choice, as most know it. This idea, which President Trump rightly calls “the civil rights issue of our time,” is on the march across the country. Students in more states have more opportunities to pursue the education that’s right for them today than when I first took office. Consider the bold expansions in North Carolina, Florida, West Virginia, Tennessee, and even in Illinois. Right here in D.C., participation in the school choice program is now 50 percent higher than it was four years ago, and there is still massive unmet demand. We’ve changed the conversation at the federal level, too. Our proposal for Education Freedom Scholarships is the most ambitious in the nation’s history, and now there are more than 120 co-sponsors in Congress and more than 50 Senators who voted for Sen. McConnell’s COVID relief package who are helping us champion the idea.

Steve Nelson was head of school at the Calhoun School. He is now in retirement. He writes frequently about the need for child-centered education.

“RESIST!”  Bernie Sanders? AOC?  Malcom X? Saul Alinsky?

No, this was Education Secretary Betsy DeVos’s plea to Education Department staffers as she ends her term in office. As reported in The Hill, she specifically implored them to “Be the resistance against forces that will derail you from doing what’s right for students.”  DeVos evoking the language of progressive activism is rich – almost as rich as DeVos herself.

She has gotten scant attention in the chaos of these last days.  It seems unjust to allow her to go so quietly from the party.  It is only in the shadow of Bill Barr, Scott Pruitt, Michael Flynn, Wilbur Ross, Steve Bannon, Paul Manafort, Mike Pompeo, Ben Carson, Stephen Miller and many others that DeVos’s breathtaking awfulness would go uncelebrated.

I am here to right that wrong.

As with other Trump appointees, her most luminous qualification for the position was absolute disdain for the mission she was tapped to lead.  She had demonstrated  decades of hostility toward public education and her antipathy has continued unabated on the job.

Her educational “philosophy” is built on several premises that have informed her life’s work. 

Her education activism and support of reform are, in her words, “a means to advance God’s Kingdom.”   She has proclaimed that “the system of education in the country . . . really may have greater Kingdom gain in the long run.”  To this end she has been a tireless advocate for voucher programs which allow parents to use tax dollars for their children’s enrollment in religious schools.  In Florida, for example, 80% of vouchers, to the tune of $1 billion, go to religious schools, where evolution is just theory, gay students are unwelcome and every course is offered through a Christian lens.

Her advocacy for charter schools is built on the second premise: Profit is a divine right and any budding entrepreneur who can walk and chew gum is qualified to give education a shot. In her home state of Michigan this has resulted in a checkerboard of charter schools that fail as often as Trump casinos and where the odds of getting a good education are like playing the roulette wheel.  The shifting of public money to charters has hollowed out the public system in Detroit, for example, where kids of color are often shuffled to and from a half dozen startups and shutdowns in just one school year.  To extend the simile, it’s a bad deal for children.

This manifestation of her “activism” seems very much like the source of her immense wealth:  Amway.  The very American Amway system also allows  any budding entrepreneur who can walk and chew gum to give Amway a whirl. The odds of success are similar to the odds of success for charter startups – meaning very low indeed.  Unless, of course, you are at the top of the pyramid. Every sucker who loses is a gain for the house.  

Amway aside, her business acumen is a bit suspect.  She was a major investor in Theranos, a remarkable scam whose founder is facing felony counts of fraud.  She and her husband are also up to their corrupt ears in another corporate scam, Neurocore, which has been charged for using unapproved (FDA) devices and deceptive (FTC) marketing.  As a kicker, they invested in a Broadway show that closed after three weeks.  Like her patron saint Trump, it’s just so much winning.

I would be remiss if not pointing out that she is, in these respects, an iconic representative of the contemporary Grand Old Party which is committed to the same principles: that we are a Christian nation and that everything done for private profit is de facto better and more efficient than anything done for public good.

A few other highlights:

She supports using federal funds to arm teachers.

She dramatically altered Title IX to give more rights to boys and men accused of sexual misconduct and to significantly limit the authority of educational institutions to support women or use their own discretion.

In her confirmation hearing, she knew nothing about the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), saying states should do whatever they want.

She called historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) “pioneers of school choice,” seeming to miss that they were the result of segregation and that they were founded because black students had no choices.  It’s like admiring a particularly fine porcelain drinking fountain in Jim-Crow-era Alabama and praising it as a pioneer in hydration choice.

President-elect Biden has selected Dr. Miguel Cardona to replace DeVos.  He is a vast improvement.  For those who continue to work  in the Department of Education, we must say, “Resist!”

Someone wrote an executive order, dated December 28, and signed Donald Trump’s name to it, declaring that the emergency conditions created by the COVID make it vital to use federal funds for vouchers. Don’t waste a minute! Scoop up federal funds and put your child in a substandard voucher school!

We know that Trump didn’t write the executive order because he’s at Mar-a-Lago nursing his grievances.

It appears to have been written by Jim Blew, who works for her and used to work for the Walton Foundation. Even if Trump refuses to concede, DeVos knows it’s over and she will use her last days in office to throw money out the door to find vouchers for private and religious schools.

Andrew Ujifusa of Education Week tweeted that the program Trump wants to use for vouchers is part of HHS, the Community Services Block Grants, and it does NOT make individual grants. Shows how desperate Betsy is to funnel money to vouchers as the sun sets on her days in the Department of Education.

He wrote:

In a new executive order, Trump says he’s authorizing HHS to allow Community Services Block Grant money to fund private school scholarships, homeschooling, and other education services “for use by any child without access to in-person learning.”

Then, in follow-up tweets”

The Community Services Block Grants program “provides funds to alleviate the causes and conditions of poverty in communities.” Notably, the program doesn’t provide direct grants to individuals.

It’s not immediately clear to me that Trump can do this through an executive order.

The Trump administration tried but failed to get a school choice expansion into the COVID relief package Trump signed yesterday.

Again, I’d pump the brakes before assuming this executive order delivers a major (or any) K-12 choice boost. Plus, Biden is on the way, etc...

It’s worth remembering that folks were reportedly negotiating to get vouchers/some form of school choice into the COVID deal up until the last few hours. I’m not sure if the Trump administration laid any regulatory groundwork for this EO, or if this is a last-ditch gesture.

He concludes his thread by saying that Betsy has pushed hard to get vouchers into the COVID bill.


I was interviewed by Amy Goodman and Juan González about President-Elect Biden’s choice of Miguel Cardona. He needs not only to reverse Betsy DeVos’s four disastrous years, but 20 years of bad federal policy.

Here it is.

President-Elect Joe Biden will soon announce his choice for Secretary of Education. He promised to choose a person with experience as a teacher. He said he wants a Secretary who is committed to public education. Here is my choice.

I can’t think of anyone better qualified to be Secretary of Education than Dr. Leslie T. Fenwick, other than Dr. Linda Darling-Hammond, who is chair of the Biden education transition team and has taken herself out of the running.


Dr. Leslie T. Fenwick is Dean Emeritus of the School of Education at Howard University.


She has been a teacher, a teacher educator, a scholar, and a dean. She taught middle school science in Toledo, her hometown. 


She understands the most important needs of American education: adequate and equitable funding; experienced teachers; and a commitment to equity and inclusion.


I have watched her lectures online, and I was blown away by her wisdom, her articulateness, and her deep understanding of the needs of children, teachers, and schools.


Leslie Fenwick is steeped in knowledge of teaching and learning, and she knows the details of federal policy. 


She is the perfect person to clean up the mess that Betsy DeVos created, to reverse four years of an administration that sought to demolish civil rights protections, to defund public schools
, to fund private and religious schools, and to impose financial burdens on college students who are deep in debt or were defrauded by for-profit institutions.

After twenty years of failed federal policies of high-stakes testing and punishment for schools and teachers, American education needs bold and forceful leadership, not incremental change.


Leslie Fenwick knows that public schools are an essential element of American democracy. They are community institutions that belong to the public, not to entrepreneurs or corporate chains. 

She will support schools instead of closing them. She will support teachers instead of threatening them.

She is a strong and clear-thinking leader.


She respects educators.


She is an inspiring speaker.

She would be the ideal Secretary of Education for the Biden administration. 

If you want to show your support for Dr. Fenwick, please sign the NPE Action petition and tweet your support:

Here is the petition: https://actionnetwork.org/petitions/dr-leslie-fenwick-for-us-secretary-of-education

For twitter: contact @joebiden @DrBiden @Transition46


After four years of Betsy DeVos and her antagonism toward public schools, civil rights protection, and students who were defrauded by for-profit colleges, the U.S. Department of Education needs a thorough makeover. A house-cleaning. A thorough disinfecting.

Larry Buhl of Capital &Main describes in this article what the Biden administration must do to de-DeVos the Department.

Is it possible to reverse the ways in which she attempted to destroy public schools, civil rights enforcement, and fair dealing with college students who have borrowed more than they can ever pay back?

That is the job facing the new Secretary of Education. Bring out the Lysol!

Phyllis W. Jordan of Future-Ed, a D.C. think tank, explains here what the latest Congressional agreement on COVID aid means for education and compares it to last spring’s CARES Act as well as to the HEROES Act passed in May by the House of Representatives. The agreement does not include any aid for cities or states. President-Elect Joe Biden has pledged another relief package after he takes office.

She writes:


The $900 billion package builds on a $908 billion stimulus bill introduced Dec. 14 and would include stimulus checks, small business relief, unemployment benefits, and support for vaccine distribution, among other things. The measure includes $82 billion for education, with $2.7 billion specifically for private and parochial schools. A detailed proposal has not been publicly released yet, but the Dec. 14 bill included the $82 billion figure and broke it down like this:

  • $54 billion of that for K-12 schools, largely delivered through Title I funding. That’s about four times what schools received in the CARES Act approved in March.
  • $20 billion for higher education with dollars set aside for minority-serving institutions
  • $7.5 billion for governors to spend at their discretion, including on private schools.

School meal programs and child care. and expand the Pell Grant program to support 500,000 new low-income college students. Separately, lawmakers have agreed to lift a ban on Pell Grants for prison education programs, an agreement that will be part of a broader bill to fund the government through the fiscal year.

The Covid relief deal that House and Senate leaders stuck is far below the $2.2 trillion Democratic leaders had been seeking for much of the Fall but higher than the $500 billion that Senate Republicans favored.

The Washington Post summary said:

School funding


• Colleges and schools will have $82 billion to help cover HVAC repair and replacement to reduce the risk of coronavirus infections and reopen classrooms. The Republican summary specified $2.75 billion in designated funds for private K-12 education.

• Lawmakers also struck a deal on $10 billion for child-care assistance.


Andy Borowitz, a humorist for The New Yorker, says that Betsy DeVos is worried that Biden might actually appoint an educator to run the U.S. Department of Education.

He begins:

WASHINGTON (The Borowitz Report)—Calling the prospect a “nightmare scenario,” Betsy DeVos warned that President-elect Joe Biden will pick an Education Secretary with a background in education.

The outgoing Education Secretary warned that putting someone with a “pro-education bias” in her job would be like “naming a fox to be Secretary of Hens.”

“For the past four years, I have worked tirelessly to keep our schools free from education,” she said. “It deeply saddens me to think that all of my hard work will go to waste.”

Jennifer Berkshire and Jack Schneider have written a valuable new book called A Wolf at the Schoolhouse Door: The Dismantling of Public Education and the Future of School. They recently published an opinion article in The New York Times in which they demonstrate the role of Betsy DeVos in the “school reform” movement. They point out that Congress rejected her primary policy goal–sending public funding to private voucher schools–and that the new Biden administration is certain to reverse her assault on civil rights enforcement in education.

Her major accomplishment, they argue, was not one that she aimed for. She managed to disrupt the bipartisan consensus on national education policy, embraced by both the Bush and Obama administrations. That consensus consisted of high-stakes testing and charter schools. Because DeVos advocated for charters and vouchers, many Democrats now view them warily and recognize that school choice was always a conservative policy. DeVos was never a huge supporter of high-stakes standardized testing except to the extent that test scores could be used to harm public schools. Her primary interest was defunding public schools and helping religious schools. Thanks to DeVos, the Democratic party may have fallen out of love with school choice.

They write:

More than three decades ago, conventional Republicans and centrist Democrats signed on to an unwritten treaty. Conservatives agreed to mute their push for private school vouchers, their preference for religious schools and their desire to slash spending on public school systems. In return, Democrats effectively gave up the push for school integration and embraced policies that reined in teachers unions.

Together, led by federal policy elites, Republicans and Democrats espoused the logic of markets in the public sphere, expanding school choice through publicly funded charter schools. Competition, both sides agreed, would strengthen schools. And the introduction of charters, this contingent believed, would empower parents as consumers by even further untethering school enrollment from family residence...

Through her attention-attracting assault on the public education system, Betsy DeVos has actually given the next secretary of education an opportunity — to recommit to public education as a public good, and a cornerstone of our democracy.