By Deirdre Fulton / Common Dreams
In a scathing memo sent Monday to Donald Trump’s pick for education secretary, Betsy DeVos, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) joined a growing chorus of opposition to the nominee, probing her past support for “privatizing and defunding K-12 education” as well as her “paper-thin record on higher education and student debt.”
“There is no precedent for an Education Department secretary nominee with your lack of experience in public education,” Warren wrote (pdf) to DeVos ahead of the billionaire’s Wednesday confirmation hearing before the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions, on which the senator sits.
Citing DeVos’ unabashed bankrolling of conservative education reform efforts—and political spending on Republican candidates and causes writ large—Warren continued:
You are, of course, free to spend your fortune however you choose, but making large political contributions to “buy influence” does not qualify you to help set policy for the education of America’s school children. To the contrary, your history of support for policies that would drain valuable taxpayer resources from our public schools and funnel those funds to unaccountable private and for-profit education operators may well disqualify you from such a central role in public education.
Indeed, Warren wrote later in the 16-page missive, DeVos’ history of spending millions to support privatizing public education and sending public funds to religious and for-profit charter schools “raises questions about what kind of secretary of education you will be—one who is focused on results for students or one who is focused on gambling with our children’s education in support of your radical political ideology.”
And while Warren may be concerned by what there is to know about DeVos’ approach to K-12 schools, she is equally troubled by the nominee’s “seemingly nonexistent record on higher education.”
A big responsibility of the next secretary, said Warren, is protecting student borrowers “from Wall Street’s and the federal government’s attempts to profit off them.” As such, the senator asked of DeVos:
Do you agree with me and with President-elect Trump that it is fundamentally unfair for the federal government to be making a profit off the backs of students? Will you support reducing the interest rates on federal student loans?
Do you believe there is statutory authority to re-privatize the student loan program? If so, where is this authority? If not, will you oppose efforts by Wall Street lobbyists to pass legislation that privatizes the student loan program?
Furthermore, Warren expressed skepticism about DeVos’ ability to oversee for-profit colleges, noting that “the very policies you have spent decades advocating for in elementary and secondary education—more free taxpayer money for private and for-profit education operators with virtually no strings attached—are the exact policies that have caused so many problems and harmed so many students in higher education.”
Warren’s concerns are shared by national teachers unions, which the Washington Post reports Monday are “mounting an aggressive campaign” against DeVos before Wednesday’s hearing. American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten laid out her union’s opposition to DeVos in a speech Monday, while the National Education Association is urging members to call and email their senators, asking them to vote against DeVos’ confirmation.
Writing last week, Chicago public school teacher and Chicago Teachers Union member Erika Wozniak said she finds the prospect of Education Secretary DeVos “nothing short of horrifying.”
Calling on lawmakers to reject the nominee, Wozniak wrote:
Put simply, I believe in public education. I believe that neighborhood public schools should be properly funded and resourced so they can be those anchors.
[…] I believe that every single child in this great country deserves access to a high-quality neighborhood public school, and I know millions of Americans share that belief.
In as much as I have devoted my career to turning that belief into reality, Betsy DeVos has poured both her time and her millions into attacking it.
And in a comment on Monday, public education historian and advocate Diane Ravitch combined Wozniak’s critique with Warren’s, denouncing DeVos’ lack of “experience or qualifications” and saying the heiress’ “only plan is to weaken and destroy” U.S. public schools.
“DeVos is a billionaire who has never worked in a public school, never attended a public school, never sent her own children to public school,” said Ravitch. “She has lived in a billionaire bubble of privilege. She has no understanding of the needs of our nation’s public schools, and she is in fact actively hostile to them. This is unacceptable. She is unacceptable.”
“Our public schools are one of the cornerstones of our democracy,” Ravitch declared. “We have never had a secretary of education who was opposed to public schools. We should never have one.”
DeVos’ hearing starts Wednesday at 10am. Watch live here.
Billionaire Betsy DeVos hasn’t completed her OGE ethics review. Now her confirmation hearing is postponed. Suggests there could be an issue. pic.twitter.com/0AYY9enhCN
— Christina Wilkie (@christinawilkie) January 10, 2017