Money changes everything: GOP Senate approves unqualified Betsy DeVos for Education Secretary

For the first time in American history, a vice president had to vote in the Senate to break a tie on a Cabinet nominee, and Betsy DeVos was confirmed as Donald Trump’s education secretary. With historic tiebreaker from Pence, DeVos confirmed as education secretary:

The Senate confirmed Betsy DeVos as education secretary Tuesday by the narrowest of margins, with Vice President Pence casting a historic tiebreaking vote after senators deadlocked over her fitness for the job.

The entire Democratic caucus of 48 senators voted against DeVos, as did two Republicans, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Susan Collins of Maine, who said they did not think that DeVos was qualified for the job. The remaining 50 Republicans voted for her, setting up a 50-50 tie that could be broken only with Pence’s vote.

It marked the first time that a vice president’s tiebreaker was needed to confirm a Cabinet secretary, according to Daniel Holt, an assistant historian in the Senate Historical Office. And it was the first time a vice president cast any tiebreaker in the Senate since Richard B. Cheney did so nine years ago.

Sen. Al Franken (MN) took to the Senate floor on Tuesday and put it best:

I’d like to close by asking a few questions of my colleagues who are still considering a vote in her favor. If Mrs. DeVos’s performance [in committee] didn’t convince you that she lacks the qualifications for this job, what would have to have happened in that hearing in order to convince you? If you can not bring yourself to vote against this nominee, is there anyone President Trump could nominate for any position that you could vote against?

And if we cannot set party loyalty aside long enough to perform the essential duty of vetting the president’s nominees, what are we even doing here?

Mr. President, the constitution gives us that power to reject cabinet nominations specifically so that we can prevent fundamentally ill-equipped nominees like Betsy DeVos from assuming positions of power for which they are not qualified. Let’s do our job.

For the sake of our children, let’s do our job.

It didn’t happen. In the end, only two Republican senators, Susan Collins (ME) and Lisa Murkowski (AK),voted against DeVos. They are undeserving of any credit for taking a moral stand, as Laura Clawson explains at Daily Kos:

Republican Sens. Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski could have stopped DeVos in committee, but instead they voted for her there, waited to ensure she would have enough votes, then took the opportunity to grandstand about how they couldn’t vote for her. Democrats were united against DeVos, and senators were flooded with calls opposing her nomination, but in the end, there weren’t three Republicans to vote against an unqualified, unpopular nominee. Republicans whose offices were getting so many calls against DeVos that voters couldn’t get through or even leave voicemails nonetheless voted for her.

Republicans own Betsy DeVos and all her works. They tried to hide her from the public, burying her speedy confirmation hearing in the evening. They blew off massive numbers of their constituents who let them know she was unacceptable. They brought Mike Pence in to cast a historic (not in a good way) vote to confirm her. She’s theirs.

Unfortunately, now she’s in a position to ruin American public education.

The Washington Post’s education reporter Valerie Strauss reports, She’s a billionaire who said schools need guns to fight bears. Here’s what you may not know about Betsy DeVos.

If you’ve been paying attention at all to the controversy surrounding the Senate confirmation of Michigan billionaire Betsy DeVos as education secretary in President Trump’s administration, you probably know these things:

*She is a billionaire.
*She supports charter schools and vouchers.
*She said that schools should be allowed to have guns to protect from “potential grizzlies.”
*She never went to public school. Neither did her children.

But here are some things you may not know about the new education secretary, who won the job in the Senate only after Mike Pence became the first vice president to ever break a tie to confirm a Cabinet nominee.

* She did not support Donald Trump for most of the 2016 presidential campaign cycle. DeVos has long been a close ally of former Florida governor Jeb Bush, and she donated to his campaign for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination. DeVos confirmation as education secretary is a big victory for … Jeb!

* She attended Holland Christian Schools, a private Christian school system in Michigan, where she was on the honor roll and played percussion in the school symphony and was a member of the swim team; her husband, Dick DeVos, attended the same elementary school. She then enrolled at Calvin College, a Christian school in Michigan, where she graduated in 1979 with a bachelor’s degree in business economics. Hundreds of students and alumni from Calvin wrote an open letter urging the Senate not to confirm her, saying that she does not have “a strong commitment” to public education.

* FollowTheMoney.org says that DeVos and her husband made campaign contributions totaling $47,559,870 between 2000 and 2015. In 1997, she wrote in Roll Call, a publication covering Congress:

My family is the biggest contributor of soft money to the Republican National Committee. I have decided to stop taking offense,” she wrote, “at the suggestion that we are buying influence. Now I simply concede the point. They are right. We do expect something in return. We expect to foster a conservative governing philosophy consisting of limited government and respect for traditional American virtues. We expect a return on our investment.”

* Her father, Edgar Dale Prince, founded an auto supply business that grew into a billion-dollar business. Her brother, Erik Prince, was a Navy SEAL who founded Blackwater, the private military security company [that provides intelligence, training and security services to US and foreign governments as well as several multinational corporations], in 1997. Her husband, Dick, is part of the family that owns the billion-dollar Amway business [often accused of being a pyramid scam]. Forbes estimates that Richard DeVos, Dick’s father, and family have a net worth of $5.3 billion.

* DeVos agreed to divest from more than 100 entities to avoid potential conflicts of interest with her new job — but one company in which she maintained her investment is Neurocore, though she stepped down from the board of directors. The New York Times wrote:

Ms. DeVos and her husband, Richard DeVos Jr., are major financial backers of Neurocore, a Michigan company that operates drug-free “brain performance centers” that claim to have worked with 10,000 children and adults to overcome problems with attention deficit disorder, autism, sleeplessness and stress. …

Not all experts are convinced of the effectiveness of Neurocore’s methods. A 2013 article in The Detroit News questioned the efficacy of diagnostic testing for A.D.H.D. through electroencephalography, citing an article in the American Academy of Pediatrics News that suggested more research was needed.

* She gave a speech at the SXSWedu convention in Austin in 2015 in which she slammed the public-education system and teachers and the D.C. public school system. Here’s what she said:

“As far as good teachers and recognizing good teachers, I couldn’t agree with you more that an excellent teacher should be a very highly valued individual. And I think that teaching has become very deprofessionalized over the years, as it’s been part of an industry that has been very closed to itself and, I would argue, very self-serving. I believe that opening up the system will go a long way toward placing a renewed value on the quality of a good teacher. And I believe that more young people will be encouraged to enter the field of teaching if we have the kind of innovation and creativity in education in general that I think would be unleashed by the notion of full, open educational choice.”

and

“It’s a battle of Industrial Age versus the Digital Age. It’s the Model T versus the Tesla. It’s old factory model versus the new Internet model. It’s the Luddites versus the future. We must open up the education industry — and let’s not kid ourselves that it isn’t an industry — we must open it up to entrepreneurs and innovators.

This is how families without means will get access to a world-class education. This is how a student who’s not learning in their current model can find an individualized learning environment that will meet their needs.

We are the beneficiaries of start-ups, ventures, and innovation in every other area of life, but we don’t have that in education because it’s a closed system, a closed industry, a closed market. It’s a monopoly, a dead end. And the best and brightest innovators and risk-takers steer way clear of it. As long as education remains a closed system, we will never see the education equivalents of Google, Facebook, Amazon, PayPal, Wikipedia or Uber. We won’t see any real innovation that benefits more than a handful of students.”

and

“I would like you to think about this as if we were talking about your own children. Here are your two choices. Alpha School is a high-performing school, with graduation rates ranging from 70-90 percent, depending on the year. Beta School is a low-performing school, with graduation rates hovering around 50 percent. If you were given the choice between Alpha School and Beta School for your children, which would you choose? If you chose Alpha School, then in Washington, D.C., you chose a private or charter school for your kids. If you chose Beta School, then in Washington, D.C., you chose the traditional public school.”

As Cyndi Lauper once sang, Money Changes Everything:

Money changes everything
Money changes everything
We think we know what we’re doin’
We don’t pull the strings
It’s all in the past now
Money changes everything

The New York Times editorializes today, Betsy DeVos Teaches the Value of Ignorance:

“Government really sucks.” This belief, expressed by the just-confirmed education secretary, Betsy DeVos, in a 2015 speech to educators, may be the only qualification she needed for President Trump.

Ms. DeVos is the perfect cabinet member for a president determined to appoint officials eager to destroy the agencies they run and weigh the fate of policies and programs based on ideological considerations.

She has never run, taught in, attended or sent a child to an American public school, and her confirmation hearings laid bare her ignorance of education policy and scorn for public education itself. She has donated millions to, and helped direct, groups that want to replace traditional public schools with charter schools and convert taxpayer dollars into vouchers to help parents send children to private and religious schools.

While her nomination gave exposure to an honest and passionate debate about charter schools as an alternative to traditional public schools, her hard-line opposition to any real accountability for these publicly funded, privately run schools undermined their founding principle as well as her support. Even champions of charters, like the philanthropist Eli Broad and the Massachusetts Charter Public School Association, opposed her nomination.

Ms. DeVos has spent tens of millions and many years in a single-minded effort to force her home state, Michigan, to replace public schools with privately run charters and to use vouchers to move talented students out of failing public schools. [It has been a disaster. A Sea of Charter Schools in Detroit Leaves Students Adrift; DeVos’ Michigan schools experiment gets poor grades; For Rural America, School Choice Could Spell Doom.] She has consistently fought legislation to stop failing charters from expanding, and lobbied to shut down the troubled Detroit public school system and channel the money to charter, private or religious schools, regardless of their performance. She also favors online private schools, an alternative that most leading educators reject as destructive to younger children’s need to develop peer relationships, and an industry prone to scams.

In her Senate hearing, Ms. DeVos appeared largely ignorant of challenges facing college students, as well. She indicated that she was skeptical of Education Department policies to prevent fraud by for-profit colleges — a position favored, no doubt, by Mr. Trump, who just settled a fraud case against his so-called Trump University for $25 million. It was not clear that she understood how various student loan and aid programs worked, or could distinguish between them.

* * *

Maybe [GOP Senators] couldn’t ignore the $200 million the DeVos family has funneled to Republicans, including campaigns of 10 of the 12 Republican senators on the committee that vetted her.

The tens of thousands of parents and students who called, emailed and signed petitions opposing Ms. DeVos’s confirmation refused to surrender to Mr. Trump. They couldn’t afford to have a billionaire hostile to government run public schools that already underperform the rest of the developed world.

Did anyone who backed this shameful appointment think about them?

Well, Sens. McCain and Flake? What say you?

17 responses to “Money changes everything: GOP Senate approves unqualified Betsy DeVos for Education Secretary

  1. diane douglas spent much less on her campaign then her democrat opponent. trump spent less then clinton. republicans don’t have enough money to beat raul grivalda. money is important but is not the major factor if you have a message the voters want.

  2. Do you understand the levels of frustration parents experience almost daily with the public school system in the United States? The system has had literally 40 years to improve it’s performance, Hundreds of millions (perhaps billions?) of dollars provided it, and dozen of different schemes tried to make it better, and it still doesn’t provide the education it should. It is no wonder that, after all this time, parents are looking elsewhere for something better. Even if the public school system improved dramatically tomorrow, it has four decades of broken promises and dreams to overcome before most people will believe in it again.

    • John Huppenthal

      The Gallup organization measured quality of public schools as rated by parents for 47 years.

      Forty seven years ago, 27 percent of parents graded their child’s school an “A”.
      In 2015, the last year that Gallup did the measurement, 24% graded their child’s school an “A” on the standard grading scale.

      Phi Delta Kappa was so devastated that they killed the messenger. Gallup will no longer do the poll. They brought in new pollster who doesn’t do letter grading.

      Since 2000, the academic productivity, which is measured in scale scores just like the SAT, of the US public school system has dropped by 15% – 5% since 2011 alone.

      Your instincts are good, Billions is the correct choice. Race to the top: Common Core, Pay for Performance, etc. was $5 billion and was associated and perhaps causative of the 5% drop.

      Call it 5 decades of broken promises terminating in a dead end.

      • For Sure Not Tom

        I don’t see how selling Secretary of Education to the highest bidder, an unqualified simpleton like De Vos, helps with your real and/or imaginary problems, Falcon9.

        But Conservatives like putting unqualified idiots in power (cough Trump cough).

        BTW, how is that Trump thing working out for you?

        (I don’t really care what you answer, I’m just too lazy to look up my stocks today and know you’ll reply with the latest DOW updates, knee jerk style).

        • The thing is, the Federal Government and the DoE doesn’t *do* a lot of curriculum management, doesn’t hire and fire teachers, doesn’t set school board policies, and so forth.

          What the DoE does is mandate and provide for equal access to education, mostly through Title I (low-income access), Title IX (sex-based discrimination), and IDEA (disability accommodation).

          I think that in the next four years, we’ll end up with Title I as a block-grant to states like Medicaid, which inevitably will lead to more funding for pet projects and special interest tax cuts, at the expense of educational funding and access for low-income households. I can only hope I’m wrong.

          • For Sure Not Tom

            It’s going to be worse.

            De Vos wants unions gone and Jesus in the schools. She’s been clear about that for years.

            And in her world, Jesus wants Wall Street hedge funds to get a cut of the tax money going to the Jesus schools.

          • John Huppenthal

            $20 billion for charter schools would be potentially another 500 schools in Arizona if we got our share. We now have had a couple of schools open with 1,000 students in their first year. This would just put enormous pressure on districts to improve. The weak districts will just crater under this kind of pressure- pulling 50,000 to 250,000 students, $250 million to $1.3 billion out of districts.

            We now have a number of charter “systems” with metrics that are 30 to 100% higher than national averages, real metrics – growth and value creation metrics, not just test scores.

            More than any other state, we are “shovel ready” for those grants and it could have a larger impact on Arizona than any other state. We already had the largest academic gains in the nation this could help us move to the next level.

            The downside is that DeVoss is a education policy neophyte and may buy whole hog into national standards. When I was a legislator and Superintendent I knew the theoretical problems with standards for children. Now that I have been in the classroom for two years, I can see that they are devastating for education.

        • John Huppenthal

          I don’t quote the DOW, the number has no intrinsic, informative value. I quote the Wilshire Total Stock Index which is the total value of all listed stocks, give or take a few billion.

          Because the stock market is the best predictor of the future that exists, you can use the index as an implicit growth predictor.

          As of this second, the stock market is at $23.994 Trillion, I’ll just round that to $24 trillion – implicitly projecting 4% economic growth for Trump.

          I would be the first to admit, it could all vanish in a second. If Trump doesn’t get his tax and deregulation initiatives moving it seems certain that some degree of implosion is ahead of us.

          This chaos hasn’t shaken it, so it doesn’t seem like chaos alone has any meaning. It appears that Trump can handle it and keep on moving the same way he did on the campaign trail.

          • Except, it’s not a measure of economic growth. It’s a measure of corporate profit growth. Ideally, the growth is broad-based, meaning that they move in tandem. However, it is also possible to see corporate profits move, but other forms of national income such as exports and wages, stagnate or even fall.

            I feel that the stock market is increasing not because the economy as a whole is going to grow, but because corporate profits will rise at the expense of wages. We are in the midst of an economic recovery where very little income growth has been accruing to the bottom half of people by income. And yes, I will reiterate that the top 10% of households control 90% of stocks in this country.

          • For Sure Not Tom

            Says the Master of Sockpuppets, totally missing the joke and playing into it at the same time.

            OMG. You had a government job. In education.

            OMG.

          • Frances Perkins

            You are piling it higher and deeper John. Michigan’ s charter school industry has not been a pancea for academic improvement. It has been a scandalous system with academic achievement going backwards and that is why Betsy spent millions to make sure the charter industry remains unaccountable for public money, thus your two faced standards, John. Read the Detroit Free Press series on the charter school industry there and see the truth, rather than the ideological spin. They don’t do better even after 22 years of trying and they spent money like drunken sailors, but don’t ask where it goes, and certainly like Arizona, don’t ask the 80% of charters in Michigan that are for profit where the money goes. Betsy made sure you don’t know.

  3. “Well, Sens. McCain and Flake? What say you?”

    I think their vote for Ms. DeVos speaks for them. They and 48 other GOP Senators are Trump’s bitches, they’ll vote in his favor and against the best interest of their constituencies 100% of the time.

    And for this, the majority of Arizona’s voters will reward them with re-election until they either drop dead or retire.

    • Do y’all remember when John McCain was a maverick? I don’t either.

    • “Republican Sens. Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski could have stopped DeVos in committee, but instead they voted for her there, waited to ensure she would have enough votes, then took the opportunity to grandstand about how they couldn’t vote for her.”

      These kinds of shenanigans are so typical of Republicans. Collins and Murkowski need to get in line with Trump’s other 48 bitches and add Pence.

      Democrats taking back the Senate in 2018 is imperative or what is left of democracy in this country really is over.

    • I don’t think you should give the other two much credit.

      They were ‘allowed’ to vote no to save face with their respective constituencies by their caucus’s leadership, in order to score political points.

      Republicans and Democrats alike do this sort of slight-of-hand for political gain. When it comes to it, all one hundred U.S. Senators will put their political party (or caucus for the two independents) ahead of the good of the country.

      • Collins and Murkowski are hypocrites, to be sure, perhaps even worse than the others. But all of these people (including the Democrats) are first looking out for themselves and their own sweet gig. Democrats tend to be more forgiving of those who do not toe the party line 100 percent of the time.

    • Here’s How Much Betsy DeVos And Her Family Paid To Back GOP Senators Who Will Support Her

      02/02/2017 07:22 pm ET | Updated 4 days ago

      http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/betsy-devos-donations_us_5893bd80e4b0c1284f251c5f