MLive, experts and Betsy DeVos as Education Secretary
On Monday, MLive ran another piece looking at President-elect Donald Trump’s choice for Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos.
The article on MLive follows a very binary pattern with conservative/liberal voices identified as experts. The story also sets up an overly simplistic framework for the article that does little to flesh out what Betsy DeVos as Education Secretary could actually accomplish.
However, before we look at the experts cited in the article it is important to note that the MLive writer uses words to describe Betsy DeVos that she would use herself in the opening sentence. It reads:
When president-elect Donald Trump nominated renowned philanthropist and school-choice advocate Betsy DeVos for U.S. Secretary of Education, waves of hope and anger swept through education circles nationwide.
The MLive reporter uses the terms “renowned philanthropist” and “school-choice advocate.” These are terms right out of the DeVos family playbook on how to present themselves to the public and demonstrates that more often than not, news media outlets play along with these terms.
People who make billions off the labor of others, rich people, don’t just give their money to organization or causes. Those who are super rich are strategic about who they give money to and that contribution serves very specific purposes. As we noted in an article about the DeVos Family philanthropy, their larger contributions go to institutions that they are politically aligned with. In the case of the Dick & Betsy DeVos Foundation we looked at the most recent 990 filings that foundations are required to submit and this is what we found:
The Dick & Betsy DeVos Foundation also contributes larger sums of money to the organizations that fit within their ideological and class warfare framework. One such entity is the Acton Institute. The Grand Rapids-based think tank, which believes that Capitalism and Christianity make good bed fellows, has received $505,000 from the Dick & Betsy DeVos Foundation according to the 990 reports for 2012 and 2013.
Another Capitalist entity that they have contributed to is Endeavor, which likes to refer to itself as a non-profit for entrepreneurs. The Dick & Betsy DeVos Foundation contributed $162,000 in 2013, according to their 990s, but they also play a significant role in having a staff person from their foundation sit on the regional board of Endeavor in Detroit, Nate Lowery.
However, the major area of philanthropy for Dick and Betsy DeVos is in the area of an attack on public education. They do this through several organizations with their funding. First, there is the DC-based entity called the Alliance for School Choice. In 2013, they contributed $250,000 to this group, which promotes the privatization of public education.
Another anti-public education source for DeVos philanthropy is the Foundation for Excellence in Education ($100,000 in 2013). Betsy DeVos sits on the board of directors, along with Condoleezza Rice and the board president, Jeb Bush.
Lastly, there is the Great Lakes Education Foundation, which has also received substantial funding from the Dick & Betsy DeVos Foundation. ($200,000 alone in 2013) The Great Lakes Education Foundation is a source of funding that supports the Great Lakes Education Project, of which Betsy DeVos is also a board member, along with the DeVos political operative, Greg McNeilly.
The other major effect that foundation giving can often have is to buy silence. The Dick & Betsy DeVos foundation knowns that if they give say $25,000 to a local non-profit, that organization will never say anything critical of the DeVos family. This outcome is equally problematic as contributions that go to groups they are ideologically aligned with, since the overall projects that the DeVos family are committed to – increasing their wealth by supporting neoliberal capitalism, attacking unions & LGBT rights – often are counter to the very efforts that non-profits are trying to counter.
Then there is there is the second label that the MLive article uses to describe Betsy DeVos…….”school-choice advocate.” More than many labels that have been used in recent decades, this one is Orwellian to the core. “School-Choice advocates” are not about choice, they are about promoting their own ideological agenda. This agenda includes taking public money away from public schools, attacking teacher unions, promoting racist and classist education policies and the desire to have religion back in the class room. This is anything but school choice.
The bulk of the MLive article was devoted to getting the opinions of four education policy “experts.” Two of the four experts were overtly in favor of charter schools and school privatization. The first was Michael Petrilli, president of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute. Fordham’s partners are a who’s who of school privatization groups, such as the American Enterprise Institute, the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, the Foundation for Excellence in Education, the Hoover Institution, the American Federation for Children and the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC).
The second overtly pro-charter/private schools expert is Dan Quisenberry, president of the Michigan Association of Public School Academies. DeVos political operative Greg McNeilly, is on the board of directors of this group.
A third expert is Elizabeth Mann, a fellow at the nonpartisan Washington D.C.-based Brown Center on Education Policy at the Brookings Institution. Often viewed as a centrist think tank, the Brookings Institute embraces neoliberal economic policies and the Brown Center on Education Policy has as one of its main experts, former Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. For those thinking Duncan was a staunch defender of the public school system, please see the following links for clarification.
The fourth expert the MLive article cites is Michigan Education Association spokesman Doug Pratt. Pratt is clearly not a support of DeVos as Education Secretary, but he is the only one who frames the qualifications of Betsy DeVos in a more honest way.
Lastly, it should be noted that the MLive article, while seeming to be neutral, actually just promotes the school-choice framework with the imbalance of experts that lean towards DeVos. The other major omission is that this article, like most commercial media sources, are missing the much larger view of why Betsy DeVos is an awful choice for Education Secretary, as noted in our longer article written just after she was named as Trump’s choice.