As the Trump administration comes to a close, students, educators and parents should take solace that Betsy DeVos will also be vacating the White House. Trump’s Secretary of Education has consistently taken actions that undermined the public school system and hurt college hopefuls.
This comes as no surprise — DeVos was thoroughly unqualified to run the department. Her family is listed by Forbes in 2016 as being the 351st richest in America (none of her money was earned through work in education). With her enormous wealth, she has spent decades lobbying to grossly loosen restrictions on charter schools — schools that operate privately but still receive federal funding.
Her efforts greatly exacerbated an already bad situation in Michigan. A multi-year investigation by the Detroit Free Press concluded that nearly $1 billion in public funding for charter schools had been marred by corruption and negligence. Another publication, Bridge Michigan, found that the system of “school choice” promoted by DeVos resulted in white flight and greater segregation within schools.
Of course, money has to come from somewhere. DeVos believes that rather than increasing funding for public schools, federal funding should instead subsidize private, sometimes for-profit, schools that can operate however they please. It seems odd then, that someone so ardently opposed to traditional public schooling was tasked with managing the public school system.
Throughout her tenure, DeVos has been misguided at best.
In March 2017, DeVos supported a budget that would have slashed funding for public education by $9 billion, while providing $250 million in private school vouchers.
She consistently supported budgets that would have reduced funding for her own department. Her actions contributed to the teacher strikes in 2018, where teachers in West Virginia and Arizona protested against her policies, according to NPR.
While America faced a student loan crisis, DeVos’ policies have hurt students seeking recompense from predatory colleges. The Obama administration took decisive action to help students who borrowed money to attend institutions that defrauded them. Known as borrower defense, this program forgave the debts of students who had been the victims of fraudulent colleges, according to NPR.
Under DeVos, the Department of Education stopped reviewing or outright denied nearly 170,000 cases, and then rewrote the rules to require students to prove that schools intended to mislead them. While she was leaving the victims of predatory colleges in limbo, DeVos made moves to reduce oversight of predatory institutions.
She reduced the number of a team dedicated to investigating widespread abuses at for-profit colleges from 12 to 3, effectively killing these investigations. Stunningly, she assigned a former dean at DeVry, to investigate abuses at DeVry.
Furthermore, the Department of Education under DeVos has been clearly negligent. Over the course of four years, they have failed America’s students. In one instance, the Department of Education only accepted 98 applications for the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program out of 28,000 applicants, according to the Patriot Act.
This program would have forgiven student loans for students who worked for a nonprofit or the government and met certain requirements. But because of the negligence of the Department of Education, thousands of students have been cheated out of thousands of dollars.
Under DeVos, loan servicers have not been held accountable and borrowers have been taken advantage of. The Department of Education’s own Inspector General found that “[the] department’s student loan unit failed to adequately supervise the companies it pays to manage the nation’s trillion-dollar portfolio of federal student loans.”
Next year, I’ll likely have to take out student loans to help pay for college. The policies of DeVos would have directly hurt me, and millions of other students like me.
We still don’t know who president-elect Biden’s pick for Secretary of Education will be, but I imagine that it has to be an improvement. At the very least, I believe they will be qualified to run the Department, and will at least have some prior experience in education.
No matter where you might stand politically, that is clearly an improvement from Betsy DeVos.