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Betsy DeVos Watch: On Charter Schools and possible new Student Loan Chief

June 22, 2017

Last week, Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos spoke to a gathering of people at the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.

The National Alliance for Public Charter Schools is an organization committed to the growth of Charter Schools and lobbies at both the state and national level on education policy. You can see from the graphic below, the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools has spent several million dollars over the years to influence federal education policy, according to the Center for Responsive Politics

The National Alliance for Public Charter Schools relies on some of the richest family foundations, like the Walton and Gates Foundations and they boast being in partnership with some of the most anti-Public School groups in the country. A few of the groups they partner with have strong ties to Dick & Betsy DeVos, such as the Alliance for School Choice and the American Federal for Children

What Betsy DeVos had to say to those gathered at the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools event was not terribly revealing, but there were some comments that are worth pointing out.

First, she likes to talk about her and her husband, Dick DeVos.

Defenders of the status quo like to paint me as a “voucher-only proponent”, but the truth is I’ve long-supported public charter schools as a quality option for students. I worked with many others to get Michigan’s first charter legislation passed in 1993—the third state to do so. And my husband founded a charter high school in Michigan that focuses on aviation, educates kids in the STEM fields and prepares them to contribute in significant ways to our 21st century economy.

Midway through her comments at the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, DeVos mentions several school programs that she has high regard for, one of which is the Christian Academy for Reaching Excellence (CARE). Jeff Bryant, a national writer, who advocates for public education has the following comments about Betsy DeVos and CARE

DeVos’s belief in using education as a way to “advance God’s Kingdom” is well documented.

As Kristina Rizga reports for Mother Jones, the lengthy philanthropic record DeVos and her husband have amassed over many years shows “the couple’s clearest preference is for Christian private schools.”

CARE elementary certainly fits that profile. Students at CARE, according to the school’s handbook, “Attend weekly chapel, they are taught Christian principles with love and respect, and they are exposed to the love and grace of Jesus Christ. Prayer is part of the CARE experience.”

On its website, CARE says the school admits students of “any race, color, national, and ethnic origin” and “does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, national, and ethnic origin.” Discriminating based on religion is notably absent.

Since the school’s opening in the fall of 2015, it has gotten significant praise from school choice advocates in South Florida, including the Foundation for Excellence in Education, which endorsed DeVos’s nomination.

The Foundation for Excellence in Education was founded by former Florida Governor Jeb Bush and has received generous support from DeVos and her foundation. DeVos has also served on its board of directors.

The Secretary of Education wraps up her comments to the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools by making the following comments near the end of her speech. This comment is simply an affirmation on her commitment to fund education systems that are anything but public education.

Today we have a great opportunity. While some of you have criticized the President’s budget—which you have every right to do—it’s important to remember that our budget proposal supports the greatest expansion of public school choice in the history of the United States. It significantly increases support for the Charter School Program, and adds an additional $1 billion for public school choice for states that choose to adopt it.

Possible Student Loan Officer should scare the shit out of students

The other news about Betsy DeVos that is worth mentioning is her announcement about who she intends to appoint as the Chief Operating Officer of Federal Student Aid

The Education Secretary wants to bring in , whom the Education Department press release says has, “more than 30 years of experience in the financial services industry.”

Johnson has been the CEO of numerous financial institutions and has spent more than 30 years working to make money for those same institutions. Having him as the Chief Operating Officer of Federal Student Aid should make any student with federal loans scared and angry.

A recent article on Buzzfeed does point out the predatory nature of Dr. Johnson being Betsy DeVos’s choice to head up this position.

The Education Department’s statement described A. Wayne Johnson as the “Founder, Chairman and former CEO” of a payments technology company called First Performance Corporation. It noted his PhD in education leadership, and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, citing his dissertation, said he “actually wrote the book on student loan debt.”

But what wasn’t noted was Johnson is currently the CEO of Reunion Student Loan Services, a detail confirmed by a company representative reached by phone on Tuesday afternoon. Reunion originates and services private student loans, and offers refinancing and consolidation for existing loans.

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