Betsy DeVos has decided to exit a couple of weeks early, which will have virtually no practical effects on anything (except perhaps pushing journalists to complete their DeVos retrospective pieces sooner than planned). DeVos will be leaving government work and, most likely, going right back to her previous work of using her large family fortune to push her education agenda.
With that in mind, I’ve selected twelve classic DeVos quotes, the better to remember her past performance, because we are certainly going to have to deal with her future activism.
I look forward, if confirmed, to working with you to talk about how we address the needs of all parents and all students. We acknowledge today that not all schools are working for the students that are assigned to them, and I’m hopeful that we can work together to find common ground and ways that we can solve those issues and empower parents to make choices on behalf of their children that are right for them.
DeVos was an unapologetic queen of the non-answer answer. There were many such quotes to choose from, but this one from her confirmation hearing is particularly weighty in what it doesn’t say. The actual question came from Sen. Patty Murray, who asked if DeVos would commit to keeping funding for public schools intact. Her answer was a very over-wordy “no.”
I support accountability.
The other DeVosian non-answer style was unbudgeable repetition. Again, there are many instances to choose from. In this instance, again from her confirmation hearing, Sen. Tim Kaine tried to get her to explain if she would hold all schools that receive federal funds—public, private and charter—accountable to the same standards. She just kept repeating the above quote. Again, an over-worded “no.” Many attributed her non-answers to obtuseness; there’s a good argument to be made that she simply didn’t believe she owed anyone an answer.
I would hope by the time I leave to have allowed students across this country, particularly those who are today struggling most, to find and go to a school where they are going to thrive in and grow and become everything they hope to be.
I think I was undercoached.
DeVos’s explanation for why her confirmation hearing, in which she stonewalled, fumbled basic information about IDEA and educational concepts, and dropped her infamous bear quote. DeVos has mirrored Donald Trump in one respect—her missteps are almost always someone else’s fault.
Our desire is to … confront the culture in which we all live today in ways which will continue to advance God’s kingdom, not to stay in our own safe territories.
Back in 2001, DeVos spoke an annual collection of rich Christians. Her husband elaborated (”The church—which ought to be, in our view, far more central to the life of the community—has been displaced by the public school”) on their idea of Kingdom gain. The Church should be at the center of society, including schools.
Government really sucks.
I have decided, however, to stop taking offense at the suggestion that we are buying influence. Now I simply concede the point. They are right. We do expect some things in return.
This oft-quoted line comes from a 1997 editorial. The DeVos attitude about money-backed advocacy is clear enough, and it doesn’t rest on having the most convincing ideas. DeVos’s years in DC highlighted her inability to win hearts and minds, but why win them when you can just rent them?
Well, education is the least disrupted “industry” in America. And, let’s not kid ourselves, it is an industry.
In front of the United States Conference of Mayors, DeVos repeated her long-held belief that public education is not a public good or a public trust, but is best understood as a business being badly run by the government. She often compared education to food trucks and Ubers.
With extreme displeasure
When DeVos was required to sign off on loans forgiven under Obama-era rules about debt relief for students defrauded by predatory for-profit schools, she signaled her disagreement by adding these three words to her signature. The rules, she said, allowed anyone who complained to get “free money.” The issue was emblematic of her favoring of businesses over students and her fight against what she later characterized as an “unholy mob” pushing “socialist” ideas.
Too many students are up against another “empire”—governments, unions, associations of this, and organizations of that. It’s an education cabal that protects the status quo at the expense of just about everyone else.
Addressing the Young Americans Foundation, DeVos made one of her sweeping generalizations about the many forces arrayed against her vision, referring to the “education cabal” for neither the first nor last time. Nor did she ever hesitate to accuse the Democrats of being tools of the teachers union. DeVos viewed basically everyone working in public education as an enemy, and that colored all her policies and speeches, reducing the usefulness of her bully pulpit to nil. “You stink, and you’re evil to stand against me, but here’s what I think you should do,” is a tough sell. But DeVos saw herself battling and beset by opponents on all sides.
To a casual observer, a classroom today looks scarcely different than what one looked like when I entered the public policy debate thirty years ago.
There’s not a national plan for reopening.
DeVos believes that government should not be involved. When pressed at one hearing, she could not come up with a single example of discrimination that would call for federal intervention. The pandemic was the ultimate test of her hands off philosophy, but she held tight to the belief that the education department has no role in helping school districts figure out how to respond to Covid-19, even as she demanded that school buildings re-open.
There are certainly more selections that could be made, from her ridiculous assertion that HBCUs are “real pioneers” in school choice, to the many ways in which she has justified rolling back the department’s civil rights protections. Much of that work will almost certainly be undone in the coming year, while Betsy DeVos settles back into the role of billionaire advocate for school choice. The difference will be that previously she was not well-known outside Michigan. Now everyone knows who she is. Cutting her tenure short by a couple of weeks is unlikely t0 change that.