Betsy DeVos, about whom Massachusetts senor Elizabeth Warren said: “It is hard to imagine a candidate less qualified or more dangerous.”  Former president George Herbert Walker Bush's assistant secretary of education, Diane Ravitch, dismissed DeVos as “unqualified, unprepared, and unfit for the responsibility of running this important agency.”

The fact that DeVos was confirmed to serve as the head of so definitional a department, even after her fraudulence was revealed, tells Americans everything they need to know about the breakdown of the system of checks and balances that facilitates Trumpism.  So it is only appropriate to point to DeVos as the best evidence of the broader crisis that began on January 20, 2017.


Like many of Trump's nominees and appointees, formal counselors and casual consiglieres, Betsy DeVos was an unknown entity to the vast majority of Americans when she was tapped for a cabinet post.  Upon her nomination in November of 2016, a press from the Trump transition team had the president-elect hailing the billionaire philanthropist as a “brilliant and passionate education advocate” who “will reform the U.S. Education system and break the bureaucracy that is holding our children back so that we can deliver world-class education and school choice to all families.”


The truth is that Trump was so unfamiliar with his nominee to run an agency with a $70 billion budget, more than four thousand employees and responsibility for?”

  As it turns out, the only Trump administration insider who was more confused than the president about Betsy DeVos was Betsy DeVos.


In January 201, at a hearing organized by the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, DeVos was supposed to make the case for her confirmation.  Instead, she exposed herself.  No, she did not have an education degree.  No, she had never taught in a public school and nor had she administered one.  No, she had not served on an elected school board.  No, she had not sent her children to public schools.  No, she had never applied for a student loan and nor had her children.  But, yes, she did think that guns might have a place in public schools as a defense against grizzly bears.  Asked about the aspect measure of educational attainment, she struggled to distinguish between growth and proficiency in an exchange with Al Franken so agonizing that the senator form Minnesota felt it was necessary to speak very slowly and deliberately as he explained to the nominee for secretary of education that “this is a subject that has been debated in the education community for years.”  New Hampshire senator Maggie Hassan, mother of a child with cerebral palsy, asked DeVos about programs and protections for students with disabilities.  The nominee seemed to be unfamiliar with “the policies surrounding that” in general, and, more particularly, with the federal Individuals with Disabilities education Act (IDEA).


Americans who worry about maintaining the promise of public education for all students may been confused about how Betsy DeVos ended up in so embarrassing a circumstance, and about why anyone would think she was prepared to oversee education in America.  How could someone who American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten dismissed as a partisan automation with “no meaningful experience in the classroom or in our schools” position herself to become “the most ideological, anti-public education nominee put forward since President Carter created a Cabinet-level Department of Education?”

 The answer to that question came in the form of a question.

 Vermont senator Bernie Sanders, who for years had warned of the danger that America was veering toward “of the rich, by the rich for the rich” plutocracy, grilled DeVos on a host of issues, from school privatization to college costs but he opened the discussion with an inquiry that resolved the mystery of DeVos's presence before the committee.

“Ms. DeVos,” the senator began, “there is a growing fear in this country that we are moving toward what some would call an oligarchic form of society, where a small number of very wealthy billionaires control our economic and political life.  Would you be so kind as to tell us how much of your family has contributed to the Republican Party over the years?”

Resorting to the canned talking points that most of Trump's nominees used to avoid meaningful exchanges, DeVos responded: “Senator, first of all, thank you for that question.  I was pleased to meet you in your office last week.”  Then she tried to dodge the question by saying: “I wish I could give you that number.”

Sanders was having none of it.  “I have heard the number was $200 million.  Does that sound in the ballpark?”

DeVos gulped.  “Collectively over my entire family,” the billionaire campaign donor replied, “that is possible.”

My question is, and I don't mean to be rude, but,” Sanders inquired, “do you think that if your family had not made hundreds of thousands of dollars in contributions to the Republican Party that you would be sitting here today?”

A sheepish DeVos replied that “I don't think there would be that possibility.”  But she could not muster energy for an argument that even she knew was comic.  No one, not even Betsy DeVos, could have imagined, not for a minute, not even by the most remote possibility, that Betsy DeVos would be anywhere near a Senate hearing room, let alone the cabinet table, if she had not bought her way into the room.

John Nichols, Horsemen of the Trumpocalypse

How Betsy DeVos Is Reshaping Federal Education Policy

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos speaks with the media after a series of listening sessions about campus sexual violence, Thursday, July 13, 2017, in Washington. (Alex Brandon/AP)

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos speaks with the media after a series of listening sessions about campus sexual violence, Thursday, July 13, 2017, in Washington. (Alex Brandon/AP)

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos has made headlines recently for plans to further shake up policies regarding for-profit higher education.

She's proposed a new rule that critics say would make it harder for defrauded students to seek debt relief. She's also taken aim at so-called gainful employment regulations put into place by the Obama administration, which forced for-profit schools to prove students they enrolled were able to secure decent jobs.

It's a fitting time for a step back to look at DeVos' impact so far and the trajectory for education in the country under her watch.

Related audio

Full Show: Betsy DeVos

The recent regulation proposals fit squarely with DeVos' track record on policy. The constant theme: deregulation.

On Point

46:12Aug 1, 2018

"She really believes government should not be telling you where to be going to school," Wall Street Journal reporter Michelle Hackman said. "They should be giving you as many options as possible and sort of allowing the market to help you decide, or giving you information to help you decide where you would best benefit from."

The rules on record from the Obama administration were designed to protect students from schools like ITT Technical Institute and Corinthian Colleges, which were found to be misleading students with false advertising and misleading claims.

"The schools were saying, 'If you go through this program, you have a 99 percent guarantee of getting a job,' " Hackman said. "And students were enrolling, and taking on huge amounts of debts, and those things were just turning out to be flatly not true."

DeVos' actions to dial back the gainful employment regulations have led to lawsuits by a host of attorneys general across the country.

Among them: Massachusetts' Maura Healey.

"Unfortunately, as another example of the terribly misguided policies and detrimental policies of Betsy DeVos, she came in and basically rolled back that rule that was there to protect us, and we took to the courts," Healey said.

The other notable rule DeVos has laid out deals with loan forgiveness. Right now, if you were a student at an institution closed or accused of fraud, you might be eligible for student loan relief. Under DeVos' plan, students would no longer receive that help automatically, and could possibly be ineligible for any relief if the former school provided an option to complete the degree elsewhere.

This new policy would reportedly save the government $12.7 billion over 10 years.

"The money on the line is taxpayer money that these students are taking on, and forgiving all of it sort of willy-nilly is really going to cost taxpayers hundreds of millions, if not billions, of dollars," Hackman said of the argument in favor of DeVos' policy change.

For some, DeVos' approach to policy thus far has resonated. Her messaging, however, has been flawed.

"I think that she is taking the federal government's role in a more modest and, quite frankly, productive direction," said Max Eden, senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute. "Unfortunately, the things that she is doing require a lot of finesse and explanation, and kind of power of persuasion that she hasn't quite been able to muster."

Critics of DeVos, however, have pointed to improper handling of civil rights complaints to the Department of Education. The NAACP, the National Federation of the Blind and the Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates filed a lawsuit recently alleging the department may be "unlawfully dismissing complaints even if students or their families provide ample proof of discrimination," the Washington Post reported.

"The department rolled back many of the civil rights enforcement regulations we thought were crucial to making sure that every American — regardless of race, ethnicity, points of national origin or any other differences, even disability — would have an opportunity to get a high-quality education," said Hilary Shelton, senior vice president for advocacy and policy at the NAACP and director to the NAACP's Washington Bureau.


DeVos Family Money Is All Over The News Right Now

Betsy and Dick DeVos
LA Johnson/NPR

From the policy of separating immigrant families, to limiting the power of labor unions, to naming the next justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, this summer the DeVos family name has been all over the news.

Over the years, the parents, in-laws and husband of U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos have given hundreds of millions of dollars to conservative causes. And many of those causes are front and center of policy initiatives and goals of the Trump administration right now.

Those foundations include the Dick and Betsy DeVos Family Foundation (founded by the education secretary and her husband); the DeVos Urban Leadership Initiative (formerly the Richard and Helen DeVos Foundation), founded by Betsy DeVos' in-laws; and the Edgar and Elsa Prince Foundation, founded by her parents.

Betsy and Dick DeVos support free-market conservative organizations "because of their mainstream, common commitment to freedom, the most universal civil liberty," said Greg McNeilly of the Windquest investment group, one of the family's for-profit financial holdings, in response to inquiries about Betsy DeVos' giving. "This commitment to protecting and promoting freedom is an animating core of their worldview."

And, he added, the family supports humanitarian organizations, because "helping the poor and disadvantaged is a driving principle of their worldview and it's reflected in the history of their foundation."

Betsy DeVos oversaw some of this giving personally, as a member of the board of directors of the Dick and Betsy DeVos Family Foundation since 1989. In a disclosure form prior to her confirmation as education secretary, DeVos reported resigning her position at the foundation as of December 2016.

During her confirmation hearing, DeVos denied making decisions for the Edgar and Elsa Prince Foundation, which is on record giving to many anti-LGBT groups, despite being listed as a board member for 17 years; she said this was a clerical error.

Lonnie Scott, who tracks the family's philanthropic giving as head of the progressive advocacy group Progress Michigan, noted that conservatives have been more aggressive than liberals in promoting favored policies through philanthropic giving.

"I think what we see overall is really the purchasing of political power that crosses the spectrum of political and foundation giving," he said. "The right is very quick to use foundation funding in a way that the left does not in supporting specific policies."

Here's a rundown of recent events with DeVos money connections.

The Janus decision and teachers unions

The story: The Supreme Court found at the end of last term in Janus v. AFSCME that public-sector unions cannot collect money, known as agency fees, from nonmembers who are covered by collective bargaining agreements. That ruling could open the path to a big drop in membership of these unions, including teachers unions.

The organization: My Pay, My Say, a project of the Michigan-based Mackinac Center for Public Policy, is a national campaign to encourage public-sector union members to "Keep your hard-earned money" and opt out of the union. The Mackinac Center describes itself as a state-based, free-market think tank. It backs issues such as school vouchers and criminal justice reform. The center did not respond to requests for comment.

The DeVos connection: The Dick and Betsy DeVos Family Foundation and the DeVos Urban Leadership Initiative are top donors to the Mackinac Center. They gave hundreds of thousands of dollars between 1998 and 2016.

Family separation

The story: The Trump administration's "zero tolerance policy" caused about 3,000 children to be separated from their families as they crossed the border into the United States.

The organization: Bethany Christian Services, one of the largest adoption agencies in the country, took temporary custody of some of these children. The organization says it supports family reunification; it reports in a FAQ that more than one-third of the children have now been reunited with their families.

The DeVos connection: Brian DeVos, a cousin of Betsy DeVos' husband, Dick, was the senior vice president for child and family services at Bethany until earlier this year, the organization reports. Maria DeVos — married to Dick DeVos' brother, Doug — has served on Bethany's board. The DeVos family foundations gave more than $6 million to Bethany between 1998 and 2016, with most of it coming from Richard and Helen DeVos.

Responding to scrutiny of the DeVos connection, Bethany Christian Services stated in its FAQ: "Betsy DeVos and the DeVos Family Foundation have been generous supporters of Bethany Christian Services long before Betsy became the Secretary of Education and we are forever grateful for their continued support. While we are extremely grateful to our thousands of donors and supporters from across the country, the idea that any single individual or organization could cause us to change practices is simply false and diminishes the incredible work of all those firmly focused on the well-being of displaced children."

Pregnancy crisis centers

The story: Anti-abortion "crisis pregnancy centers" offer counseling and sometimes basic care such as sonograms to pregnant women in an attempt to dissuade them from an abortion. A California law required all licensed health care centers to offer information about reproductive health care available in the state, and required unlicensed centers to explain that they were unlicensed. The Supreme Court found last term that these requirements violate the First Amendment.

Organizations: Bethany Christian Services, described above, runs more than 100 crisis pregnancy centers.

The DeVos connection: DeVos family foundations have also supported other crisis pregnancy centers in the their home state of Michigan.

Masterpiece Cakeshop

The story: In the case Masterpiece Cakeshop, Ltd. v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, the Supreme Court found in June that a baker could decline to make a cake for a same-sex wedding because of his religious beliefs.

The organization: Alliance Defending Freedom, an anti-LGBT-rights group, funded the baker's litigation.

The DeVos connection: The Richard and Helen DeVos Foundation has donated to Alliance Defending Freedom since at least 1998 and (under its current name, the DeVos Urban Leadership Initiative) as recently as 2016, totaling hundreds of thousands of dollars. The Edgar and Elsa Prince Foundation, founded by DeVos' parents, has given at least $1 million to the organization, according to ProPublica.

The Brett Kavanaugh nomination

The story: President Trump's second choice for the high court, like his first, Neil Gorsuch, came from a short list of judges selected by a group of conservative lawyers called the Federalist Society.

The organization: The Federalist Society says it consists of 60,000 lawyers, law students and scholars with a conservative or libertarian worldview "dedicated to reforming the current legal order" in favor of freedom and against "liberal orthodoxy." Leonard Leo, former executive vice president of the organization, took leave from his position to personally assist Trump in picking a successor to Anthony Kennedy.

The DeVos connection: The DeVos Urban Leadership Initiative (formerly the Richard and Helen DeVos Foundation) has been a top contributor to the Federalist Society, donating $25,000 in 2016 and hundreds of thousands of dollars over the years. The Dick and Betsy DeVos Family Foundation has given as well.

NPR looked at tax records analyzed by the nonpartisan Michigan Campaign Finance Network, for 2015 and 2016; and the left-leaning database project Conservative Transparency, which lists donations from 1998 through 2014.

These causes and organizations are representative, not comprehensive — just a small snapshot of these foundations' activities. The DeVos Urban Leadership Initiative gives away about $50 million each year, the Dick and Betsy DeVos Family Foundation about $10 million, and the Edgar & Elsa Prince Foundation about $5 million

DeVos Seeks To Rewrite The Rules On Higher Ed

LA Johnson/NPR

The U.S. Education Department is going back to the drawing board on some basic rules of higher education, including one concept that has been in place for 125 years.

The goal? Unleash innovation to better serve students.

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos has called for a "major shift" in how we provide higher education: "We have to give students a much wider venue of opportunity, starting in high school and middle school, to help guide them into a productive future."

Critics, though, call this move giving free rein to bad actors.

"Basically what these regulations allow is for these institutions that care about nothing but profit to come in and screw students in the name of innovation," says Amy Laitinen, who directs higher education policy at the left-leaning New America Foundation.

This week, the department officially announced that it is reopening "negotiated rule-making," a public comment and deliberation process, in order to rewrite a long list of rules meant to define the value of a college education. Here is an overview of the proposals and what changes they might bring, with links to our previous coverage:

Accrediting agencies: Who watches the watchdogs?

A college must be accredited in order to receive federal funds. But it is independent agencies, not the government, that give that approval. They are the meat inspectors of the higher education world.

When accreditors don't do their job, students can suffer. In 2016, the Obama administration withdrew recognition of one of these accreditation agencies, the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools, which had certified both Corinthian Colleges and ITT Tech, two enormous for-profit colleges that collapsed in scandal.

DeVos reinstated ACICS earlier this year, despite her department's own review finding that the agency failed to comply with 57 of 93 federal quality standards.

Now, her department proposes "simplifying the Department's process for recognition and review of accrediting agencies."

That could reduce compliance requirements for accreditors, according to Diane Auer Jones, the department's principal deputy undersecretary, as quoted in Inside Higher Ed.

Clare McCann, the deputy director for federal higher education policy at New America, says this could amount to cutting off one leg of the three-legged stool that is college oversight: states, the federal government and accreditors.

And if that happens, she says, "the whole thing falls down."

Gainful employment: Who pays for degrees that don't pay off?

One of the biggest battlegrounds in higher ed policy during the previous administration was a little rule called gainful employment. This imposed limited sanctions on career-training programs that consistently produced graduates whose income was too low relative to their student debt.

The for-profit college industry opposed the rule, including in court. Consumer and student advocates hailed it.

A memorandum obtained by The New York Times last week suggests the department plans to scrap gainful employment and simply report statistics on debt burden and post-college earnings, as the federal College Scorecard currently does.

This week's announcement from the department doesn't include the words "gainful employment" but does propose creating "a single definition for purposes of measuring and reporting job placement rates." A single definition, that is, for career and noncareer programs alike.

Credit hours: The coin of the college realm

In 1893, Charles Eliot, president of Harvard, introduced what became the basic unit of a college education: the credit hour.

The Obama administration defined it thus: "One hour of classroom or direct faculty instruction and a minimum of two hours of out of class student work each week for approximately fifteen weeks for one semester or trimester hour of credit."

College programs currently need to provide a certain number of credit hours of instruction in order to be accredited. The department wants to revise that definition, it says, to "promote greater access for students to high-quality, innovative programs."

This is a controversial point. On the one hand, competency-based education is a burgeoning movement both in K-12 and in higher education. Many argue that what matters is not bodies parked in seats but mastery of particular skills and content. That can be demonstrated through direct assessment, independent research, internships, online learning, group projects and in many other ways, over any period of time.

Even New America's Laitinen, a critic of the proposed rule changes, wrote a white paper titled, "Cracking the Credit Hour."

Linda Rawles, a self-described libertarian and regulatory lawyer who has represented for-profit colleges, says the Obama administration's move to define the credit hour angered groups that often find themselves on opposite sides of issues.

"Traditional schools, for example, were not happy," Rawles says. "They thought that was an infringement on their territory, on their ability to decide what good teaching was."

On the other hand, there is the quality question. Laitinen notes that if you nix the credit hour without replacing it, while simultaneously loosening oversight from both the feds and accreditors, you could end up with diploma mills.

Faculty contact: Where's my teacher?

A second standard related to competency-based or direct-assessment programs now under revision is "regular and substantive interaction" with faculty. Under current rules, distance education courses must have a certain amount of student-instructor contact; otherwise, they are mere correspondence courses. Western Governors University, a nonprofit online entity that has been hailed as a pioneer in competency-based education, was dinged by the Department of Education last year for falling afoul of this rule.

Granting relief to TEACH-ers

The department's notice this week also addresses issues with the TEACH Grant program, seeking to "improve outcomes" for recipients.

TEACH is a program that offers public-school teachers grants to pay for college or a master's degree in return for committing to teach a high-need subject for four years in a school that serves many low-income families.

In recent months, TEACH has been the subject of extensive NPR reporting that revealed widespread mismanagement, resulting in thousands of teachers having their grants unfairly converted to burdensome loans.

In June, 19 senators signed a letter to Secretary DeVos, citing NPR's reporting and saying, "It is urgent that these mistakes are fixed."

By including TEACH in negotiated rule-making, the Education Department is acknowledging that the grant program needs changing, though it's unclear whether this rewrite, assuming it happens, will address the program's flaws or make whole the teachers who have been saddled with debt.

Money for religious organizations

Here's the lone purple sock on this laundry list of changes. The department says that in light of a 2017 Supreme Court decision, it wants to revisit the rules that prohibit giving federal education funding to "faith-based entities." (In that case, the court found that a church-based preschool could not be denied state funds to refurbish its playground.)

But wait, you say — there are lots of religiously-aligned colleges that already get federal funding in the form of student aid and research grants — Catholic, Jewish, evangelical, to name a few. So what's new?

It's hard to say exactly, but the department's notice does call out a relatively small program called GEAR UP that provides money to public K-12 schools, not colleges, to help low-income students prepare for college.

And it mentions "faith-based entities," not just "schools." So the potential implication is that this rule change would pave the way to give federal education money to any religious organization.

John Nichols sums that Donald Trump is one man.  A powerful man, to be sure, but sill one man.  He can only govern with the collaboration of other men and women, like Betsy DeVos and, in the American system, he could not have established that collaboration at its highest and meaningful level without the acquiescence of Republicans in the U.S. Senate.  Unfortunately, they id acquiesce.  Even after they had watched Betsy DeVos melt down, and in full knowledge of that fact that her only “qualification” was her wealth, a sufficient number of Republicans (with an assist from Vice President Mike Pence) decided to give the woman who “may have confused it” control over education policy and practice in the United States.

Views: 53

Comment by mary gravitt on August 15, 2018 at 10:18am

At one time the US had the best education system in the world.  Ever since Proposition-13 public schools have gone to hell.  Public schools were force to become vendors for Pepsico and our children became fat and candidates for Class I and II diabetes.  Our colleges are still number one in the world except for the fact that DeVos is doing everything in her power to make them otherwise.  Remember Donald Trump came into office as a businessman.  Now he is willing to give the school systems the business. 

Comment by mary gravitt on August 15, 2018 at 10:24am

Why is Sessons and Trump out to sue Harvard?  Harvard has a large Asian student body.  The only discrimination at Harvard is money and ability and an over-abundance of elites who want to attend Harvard.  Maybe Trump wants to get even with the Neocons who are writing book about him and not saying nice things about him.

Comment by koshersalaami on August 15, 2018 at 10:59am

Harvard is in less debt than the US Government, not to mention they have access to lawyers at least as good. 


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