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Betsy DeVos Watch: Billionaires and Populist Rhetoric

January 24, 2018

As of this writing, the Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos, has posted 26 speeches on the Department of Education website. Of those 26 speeches, some of them have been given during college or university commencements, while others have been with other state or national education conferences.

However, there are a disproportionally high number of speeches that Betsy DeVos has delivered that specifically addresses organizations and associations that are far right politically and embrace education privatization.

Here is a list of the speeches she has delivered to these far right and other groups representing the current Neoliberal establishment:

2/23/2017 Conservative Political Action Conference

3/29/2017 Brookings Institute

5/22/2017 American Federation of Children

6/13/2017 National Alliance for Public Charter Schools

7/20/2017 American Legislative Exchange Council

10/13/2017 Washington Policy Center

10/27/2017 Future Farmers of America

11/30/2017 Foundation for Excellence in Eduction

1/16/2018 American Enterprise Institute

(Editor’s Note: This list of speeches by Betsy DeVos, does not include the speech she gave at the Acton Institute’s annual dinner in Grand Rapids on 10/18/2017)

As you can see, of the 26 speeches that Betsy DeVos has given (as listed on the Dept. of Ed site), nine of those speeches have been given to far right and current Neoliberal establishment groups.

We have reported on two of these speeches, including her comments at the ALEC conference and the Foundation for Excellence in Education Summit. Now, we would like to provide some analysis of the speech she gave last week to the American Enterprise Institute

Early on in the Secretary of Education’s speech to the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), she acknowledges how AEI has, “influenced and shaped the way Americans think about so many issues in the public square.” 

Betsy DeVos also says she is honored to call the CEO of the Brookings Institute, Arthur Brooks, a friend.

DeVos then goes on to say:

The vast majority of learning environments have remained the same since the industrial revolution, because they were made in its image. Think of your own experience: sit down; don’t talk; eyes front. Wait for the bell. Walk to the next class. Repeat. Students were trained for the assembly line then, and they still are today.

I actually agree with this statement from Secretary DeVos. However, we disagree entirely on in what direction public education should go.

Betsy DeVos then offers criticism of both the No Child Left Behind policies of the Bush administration and the Race to the Top policies of the Obama administration. DeVos then uses language as if she wants to come across as a populist by saying, “Washington bureaucrats and self-styled education “experts” are about as far removed from students as you can get.

About half way through her speech, Betsy DeVos finally gets to her solution, which is the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). Here is what the Secretary of Education thinks ESSA is a step in the right direction:

The Every Student Succeeds Act charted a path in a new direction. ESSA takes important steps to return power where it belongs by recognizing states – not Washington — should shape education policy around their own people. But state lawmakers should also resist the urge to centrally plan education. “Leave it to the states” may be a compelling campaign-season slogan, but state capitols aren’t exactly close to every family either. That’s why states should empower teachers and parents and provide the same flexibility ESSA allows states.

Essentially, DeVos is promoting the long-standing far right mantra of States Rights. However, as you read in the above comment, she is not just advocating turning power over to states, she is suggesting that even take legislatures can be a barrier to education. This is what Betsy DeVos has been working on for decades, whether it is with the American Federal for Children, the Great Lakes Education Project or the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. The pro-voucher, pro-charter, pro-privatization agenda is exactly what the Secretary of Education is promoting. The only difference is, she wants to present her approach as looking out for poor, urban school districts. DeVos states, “So let’s face it: the opponents of parents could repeal every voucher law, close every charter school, and defund every choice program across the country.

But school choice still wouldn’t go away. There would still be school choices… for the affluent and the powerful.

How ironic that someone who comes from a millionaire family and marries into a billionaire family, now claims to be for poor, working class parents and students. However, this is exactly the same language that Donald Trump used during his campaign, presenting himself as being empathetic to the working class factory workers who have lost jobs to bad trade policies like NAFTA and then turning around and passing tax policies that benefits the billionaire class that he and Betsy DeVos are part of. Indeed, we live in Orwellian times.

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