Education Secretary Betsy DeVos has fit right in with the Trump administration, treating her government position as opportunity to enrich herself and serve her own narrow ideological interests at taxpayer expense.
Last week, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell voiced strong opposition to providing any federal relief funding to assist state and local governments losing revenues hand-over-fist and facing mountains of unforeseen expenditures due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Trump administration members Kellyanne Conway and Betsy DeVos may have been exposed to the coronavirus at CPAC.
We hear these days about the importance of the African American vote within the Democratic base, and rightly so. This base has played a key role in the Democratic primaries and, according to all indications, will play a key role in determining the Democratic presidential candidate.
Democratic candidates would also be wise as well as both humane and politically responsible, though, to pay attention to another population that, while historically endorsing Trump, has been nonetheless largely ignored by Trump, and is in dire need of attention and support. With some much needed attention from Democratic candidates, these voters could certainly make the difference necessary to defeat Trump in key states like Michigan, Ohio, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania.
And it is also a vital matter of standing up for the equal rights of all and serving all constituencies, making particular efforts to serve the least visible among us in cultivating a democratic society and economy.
I’m talking about rural America, which isn’t, of course, exclusively white but which is nonetheless a white majority–and unquestionably, and more to the point, a forgotten one.
What is one of the latest key developments in terms of Trump turning his back on rural–and, really, working-class–America?
Trump’s Department of Education, led by Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, is up to its old tricks of cutting funding for public education and doing its best to make public education less rather than more accessible to Americans and making the nation’s public education system increasingly unequal.
And these cuts are targeted to hit rural America, a typical stronghold of Trump support, the hardest.
This time, through what Andrew Naughtie, reporting for The Independent, calls “an under-the-radar bookkeeping change at the Department of Education,” DeVos’s squad is setting up over 800 public schools across the nation’s primarily rural school districts to lose thousands of dollars per school in key funding. These cuts will cost these schools everything from reading specialists, to computers, to counselors, to language lessons for non-English speakers and more. Really, we are talking about the basics.
How can these under-resourced schools offer an education equal to what students receive elsewhere in America and prepare their students to compete in our economy and make their most meaningful contributions to American society?
And what’s more, as Erica L. Green reports in The New York Times, rural schools are already, according to advocates, “the most underfunded and ignored” in the country, even though they serve nearly one in seven public school students. These students, according to a report from the Rural School and Community Trust, “are largely invisible to state policymakers because they live in states where education policy is dominated by highly visible urban problems.”
What has happened exactly?
Well, public schools have previously been able to demonstrate they qualify for the Rural and Low-Income School Program by counting the number of students who qualify for federally subsidized free and reduced-price meals in order to determine poverty rates in the schools. The Department of Education, however, recently determined many of these schools that had been receiving funding had qualified erroneously, according to the Census Bureau’s Small Area Income and Poverty Estimates. To qualify for funds, schools must demonstrate 20% of their area’s students live in poverty. Using this census data is less accurate than actually using the data of who actually is attending a school.
The push-back against this policy move has been decidedly and firmly bi-partisan. Republican Senator Susan Collins of Maine indicated that this change would mean 100 of the 149 schools in Maine previously receiving funding from this program would no longer qualify, costing its schools $1.2 million in funding. Democratic Senator Jon Tester of Montana underscored that 220 of its most remote schools would lose some $400,000 in funding.
The Trump administration is not making life better for our rural populations, despite the hopes of advocates that it would, given these regions’ electoral support for Trump.
Alan Richard, for example, a board member of the Rural School and Community Trust, a non-profit advocacy group, told The New York Times, “Rural education advocates definitely hoped that a president elected, in part, because of rural and small-town voters would pay more attention to rural children. Even after the last election, with all the attention to rural America, little has been done to correct the inequity so many rural students face.”
Trump can be called out for his broken campaign promises, his outright lies, and his complete lack of concern for people in need.
The real question is whether or not Democrats will listen to, pay attention to, and take up the concerns and cause of our rural populations.
Senator Amy Klobuchar spoke to and about rural America. At times, Senator Kamala Harris did as well. Both, of course, are no longer in the running to be the Democratic presidential candidate.
Other than that, we don’t hear too much from Democratic candidates regarding rural America.
And it also needs to be said that there is a tendency in Democratic politics to demonize and dismiss poor white and white working-class people in America as racist and backward, as not on board with the progressive politics of change.
Maybe listening, paying attention to, and creating actual policy to address the needs of these Americans—as opposed to dismissing them—would go a long way towards courting these voters.
It would certainly go a long way toward addressing the severe class stratifications in our society and working-class issues overall.
Will Democrats take advantage of this opportunity to serve the needs of those Trump has abandoned, address them, and cultivate their support? Is the Democratic tent big enough? Can Democrats be big enough?
In his State of the Union Address, Trump took a swipe at what he called “failing government schools.”
Most of us use the term “public school” or talk about “public education,” as we refer to institutions set up by, for, and of the people.
Trump, of course, is talking about public schools, but his choice to re-name them “government schools” is consequential. This phrase is not aimed at making public schools appear as institutions central to supporting the public good, to undergirding any hope for equality and freedom in this country, and to enabling the vast majority of Americans to access education. Rather, he makes these schools sound repressive and imprisoning, not enabling and liberating. (And I’m not suggesting there aren’t issues of gross inequality in our public school system.)
Certainly, the phrase “government take-over” is never used positively, as when opponents of, say, universal healthcare decry a “government take-over” of the healthcare system.
In short, substituting the adjective “government” for “public” can make any institution sound like a top-down, inefficient messy operation. Sadly, these are just the connotations the word has become saddled with over time, deserved or not.
And in many cases, it is not deserved. Remember when Tea Party activists used to wave signs demanding “Keep your goddamn government hands off my medicare”? People loved their government-run healthcare; they just didn’t know it because the right wing has trained so many Americans reflexively to hate government (even when the right wing controls it!) and automatically see it as the enemy and as inefficient.
Indeed, the world had been turned upside down for these Americans, as they protested against their own interests, railing against a government that administered the very program they wanted.
The same is true in the case of Trump referring to “failing government schools.” The phrasing is designed to get folks on board with defunding the public schools on which most Americans depend, promising them more “choice” and better schools.
But what’s really behind Trump’s words?
Let’s listen and then unpack. Here’s what he said Tuesday night:
“The next step forward in building an inclusive society is making sure that every young American gets a great education and the opportunity to achieve the American Dream,” Trump said. “Yet, for too long, countless American children have been trapped in failing government schools.”
The solution is to pass the Education Freedom Scholarships and Opportunity Act, legislation proposed by Texas Republican Senator Ted Cruz and endorsed by Education Secretary Betsy DeVos. This act would provide $5 billion worth of annual tax credits to encourage individuals and businesses to donate to nonprofit scholarship funds. Families could apply for these funds to send their children to private and religious schools or potentially other kinds of vocational training or certification.
But what’s really behind this proposal? Why not actually have not just “government run” schools but schools that are actually sufficiently—and why not lavishly?—“government funded”?
We can’t separate Trump’s call for an “inclusive society” and attack on public education from his call for what he calls “religious liberty,” which is intimately linked to Attorney General William Barr’s and DeVos’s agenda of dismantling the division between church and state, imposing a right-wing Christian worldview on public institutions (or eliminating them), and de-funding the public sector.
Compare what Trump said in last Tuesday’s address to what Barr said in a speech last October at Notre Dame’s law school.
“My administration is also defending religious liberty, and that includes the constitutional right to pray in public schools,” he said. “In America, we don’t punish prayer. We don’t tear down crosses. We don’t ban symbols of faith. We don’t muzzle preachers and pastors. In America, we celebrate faith, we cherish religion, we lift our voices in prayer, and we raise our sights to the glory of God.”
The drama of the impeachment of the nation’s president, reports indicate, simply has not captured the interest or concern of the American audience. Apparently the melodrama of daytime soap operas attracts their attention more than the antics of a corrupt president and administration actively undermining the nation’s security for personal gain at the expense of the people’s interests.
Arguably, Trump’s corrupt behavior and incessant lying should concern the American people. He has misled the people about his support for healthcare policy that ensures coverage for people with pre-existing conditions, his refusal to cut medicare and social security, and hosts of other issues most Americans would tend to understand as “kitchen table” issues, those issues that directly impact their pocketbooks, livelihoods, and ability to take care of their families. It would seem that the corrupt behavior of a president everyday seeking to make American lives worse in the most basic ways would interest voters.
But there is no point arguing. I tried as much when I wrote a piece arguing in a similar vein, titled “Why the Mueller Report is the Kitchen Table Issue of all Kitchen Table Issues,” back when that report was released.
What IS worth highlighting in reporting, though, is the kind of corruption we see in the Trump administration in relation to issues that we actually know Americans care deeply about and which just doesn’t receive as much attention.
I’m talking about issues of public education and the ongoing corrupt behavior of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, who continues to work against Americans’ abilities to attain affordable and quality public education. And she does so, like Trump, to line her own pockets.
The magnitude of the impeachment hearings and “trial,” dominating the attention of the American media, provided cover for DeVos’ own more mundane corruption.
Early last December,
DeVos proposed a plan
Back in 2004, Thomas Frank’s book What’s the Matter with Kansas? elevated the state as the textbook case of how the Republican party has been able to leverage a platform of conservative social values to sway the electorate to vote against its economic interests. Railing against abortion, affirmative action, big government, elitism, political correctness, and the like, Republicans surfed the wave of voters’ cultural outrage to election victories and then performed the bait-and-switch.
As Frank tells the story, these officials, instead of delivering on these platforms, engaged in unbridled deregulation and tax cuts, gutting the public sphere on which people depended, such as the educational system, and concentrating wealth in a fewer and fewer hands at the people’s expense.
In 2018, Kansas voters suddenly got “woke,” deciding they were mad as hell and not going to take it anymore. They elected Democrats Laura Kelly as Governor and Sharice Davids to the House of Representatives.
They felt the reality of Republican Governor Sam Brownback’s Kansas, where it became apparent that, lo and behold, massive tax cuts did not pay for themselves, much less increase state revenues, but rather resulted in severe austerity conditions. For example, the school year was shortened due to revenue shortfalls attributable to his criminally huge corporate tax cuts, exposing that these Republican fiscal and tax policies were not benefiting the economic health of the state or creating a higher quality of life. Brownback’s cuts to education were so egregious that they were deemed unconstitutional by the state’s supreme court. Bobby Jindal wreaked similar havoc in Louisiana back in 2016, granting massive tax cuts to the wealthy and corporations, leaving the state in economic chaos and facing massive cuts to education and basic social services. Republican Governor of Illinois Bruce Rauner followed the same playbook, razing the state’s public sphere in the name of restoring economic health by lowering taxes and destroying unions.
As I wrote back then, voters paying attention should have seen what the GOP had in store for them should a Republican win the presidency in 2016. And Trump has indeed realized this vision, lavishing exorbitant tax cuts to the wealthiest among us and to corporations, resulting in the accelerating deterioration of the economy as well as gutting the public sphere. His budget cut proposals as well as the
policies of his Education Secretary Betsy Devos
When asked about his approach to education in last Thursday’s Democratic primary debate, Pete Buttigieg’s response boiled down the difference between his approach and Donald Trump’s to its most basic element. “Step one,” he said, would be to “appoint a secretary of education who actually believes in public education.”
Buttigieg’s pithy statement put sharply into focus the stakes the 2020 election holds for the health, indeed the fate, of public education in America—even the fate of the public good itself.
As basic and common sense as this first-step solution is, that someone needed to say it—and that it actually and accurately captured reality—should speak volumes to the American people about how the Trump administration has approached and understood the role of governing overall. For Trump, the role of government is not to support the public good and cultivate a vibrant public sphere that enables and encourages people’s democratic participation in serving each other; rather, for Trump, governing is about using—or abusing—the power of the presidency to help some exploit our national resources to profit off of others–at the severe expense of those others.
Of course, the lawsuit moving forward against Trump for violating the emoluments clause in the Constitution alleges this same behavior.
But compelling allegations aside, Trump’s own behavior speaks for itself.
Last August he appointed a labor secretary, Eugene Scalia, who has historically devoted his energy to undermining the rights and conditions of labor in favor of the businesses who profit from exploiting workers. As Morgan Chalfant reported for The Hill, Scalia “has a career history of representing businesses and fighting to roll back labor regulations. One of his more prominent cases involved representing Walmart as the retail giant fought a Maryland law on employee health care.” Labor unions vigorously opposed his appointment because of his long record of fighting for business against labor.
And, of course, Trump’s appointments to lead the Environmental Protection Agency, previously Scott Pruitt and now Andrew Wheeler, have aggressively sought to assault rather than protect our environment. Pruitt was instrumental, for example, in convincing Trump to withdraw from the Paris Climate Accord; and for a taste of Wheeler’s environmentally destructive antics, just look back to last Thursday when the EPA rolled back Obama-era regulations on clean water.
And just as Trump’s labor secretary and EPA head support business’s profits over the well-being of workers and people generally, as all our impacted by deteriorating environmental standards, it is no different when it comes to the secretary of education Betsy DeVos.
DeVos has repeatedly undermined access to education for America’s students and, in her routine yet stalwart support of for-profit education, participated in fleecing Americans of millions of dollars and leaving them, as they earnestly sought degrees to improve their lives and pursue their dreams, without degrees.
At the end of last August, DeVos, reversing policies put in place during the Obama administration to enable students to seek forgiveness for loans they received when for-profit colleges defrauded them, made it more difficult for students to qualify for such loan forgiveness.
She complained students were just raising their hands to get “free money.”
Eileen Connor, legal director of Harvard Law School’s Project on Predatory Student Lending, found these rollbacks so unconscionably egregious that the project has vowed to challenge them in court. She said, “If Betsy DeVos won’t do her job and stand up for students, then we will fill that void. That is why we will be filing a suit challenge these harmful new regulations that give a green light to for-profit colleges to continue scamming students.”
Senate Democrat Dick Durbin similarly characterized the move “another Trump-DeVos giveaway to their for-profit college cronies at the expense of defrauded student borrowers.”
Indeed, let’s not forget that shortly after the 2016 election Trump settled a lawsuit for $25 million against his own sham for-profit Trump University.
When it comes to education, too, the Trump presidency is all about either enriching himself and his family at the expense of people and the public good or helping others do so. The overarching policy of his administration is to create conditions, using the authority and resources of the federal government, in which some can reap enormous profits at the expense of the tax-paying American public.
This truth revealed itself with crystal clarity last July when Erica L. Green and Stacey Cowley reported for The New York Times the substantial depth of complicity of DeVos’s Education Department in supporting the fraudulent for–profit Dream Center Education Holdings, a subsidiary of Los Angeles mega-church that was allowed to buy out the collapsing for-profit Argosy University and the Art Institutes chain.
First, the Times underscored the fact that Dream Center had no experience in higher education when it received the blessing of DeVos’ department to buy the troubled for-profit chains.
Second, we learn that the head of higher education policy for the department, Diane Auer Jones, a former executive and lobbyist for for-profit colleges, was pulling strings to help the colleges earn back accreditation, while Dream Center held back the truth from students who were paying tuition, often with federal funding from tax-payers, that the school did not have accreditation and thus the credits for which they were paying were worthless.
When finally Dream Center closed the doors on its institutions, students were left holding the bag, having paid tuition to an institution that could not grant them a degree.
Obviously, DeVos’ leadership enabled incompetence and greed, mirroring Trump’s presidency.
What is clear, though, is that the current administration not only does not value public education as serving the public good but that it simply doesn’t value serving the public good anyway.
The Trump administration is interested only in serving the private interests of the few at the expense of the American public majority.
Buttigieg makes clear that in the 2020 election, much hangs in the balance when it comes to serving the nation’s children through public education.
The Education Department’s acting inspector general found that Betsy DeVos broke federal law when she did nothing to block federal funds from being used to arm teachers.
Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos
is in the process of writing new rules to expand protections for both students and staff who have been accused of sexual misconduct while protecting the schools and colleges where they work or attend classes. Types of sexual misconduct covered by the proposed new rules include sexual assault
The National Education Associaton and the California Teachers Association are suing Education Secretary Betsy DeVos and the Department of Education after they moved to delay rules that protect students who are studying in online programs.
U.S. Secretary of Education
What if children stopped going to school until gun laws were changed to keep schools safe?
That is the radical idea being proposed by former U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan, who wrote on Twitter:
“This is brilliant, and tragically necessary. What if no children went to school until gun laws changed to keep them safe? My family is all in if we can do this at scale. Parents, will you please join us?”
This is brilliant, and tragically necessary.
What if no children went to school until gun laws changed to keep them safe?
My family is all in if we can do this at scale.
Parents, will you please join us? https://t.co/Yo4wsFuJI5
Ever since seventeen children were tragically killed and another sixteen injured last month in yet another school shooting at Marjorie Stoneman-Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, the nation has been embroiled in a national debate which has been amplified by the survivors of that tragic event.
Key to the debate has been the age requirement or lack thereof, for individuals to procure such a lethal weapon. In fact, due to such pressure the state of Florida, under Republican control, not only passed, but has signed into law, broad legislation which not only raised the age to buy firearms to twenty-one, banned bump-stocks, allowed for restrictions for those individuals deemed a threat to themselves or others to owning a gun, and had a controversial component allowing certain school employees to carry a gun.
As a result of that legislation, the National Rifle Association filed suit against the State of Florida, within hours of the bill’s passage and now all eyes look to the White House for the essential leadership to get such an initiative passed in other states.
Last week during a televised bipartisan meeting of Senators, Trump seemed to provide a glimmer of hope for such leadership when he made clear his support for the gun lobby, going so far as to refer to the lobby as “great patriots,” while arguing that his support of the lobby “doesn’t mean we have to agree on everything.” He then added:
“It doesn’t make sense that I have to wait until I’m 21 to get a handgun, but I can get this weapon at 18.”
Democrats and progressives of all stripes will need to paint a vivid portrayal of the wonderful life we might have been living with Hillary Clinton as President and the possibilities they can deliver if they achieve congressional majorities.
"This decision does a disservice to those who have worked hard to address sexual violence. Congress must now act to undo it."
DeVos claimed the guidelines do not do enough to address the due process rights of those accused of sexual assault and that the victims of sexual assault, those accused and colleges all lose under the current system.
The two rules being reworked by the administration help protect students from shady lending behavior and assist them in finding jobs after college that allow them to pay off their debt.
Betsy DeVos eliminated President Obama's policies to make student loan repayment easier and to prevent student loan recipients from defaulting.