Tag Archives: Betsy DeVos

What Is WRONG With These People?

I don’t know why I constantly ask that question–I know what’s wrong with them. They are greedy and unethical, none too bright, and they lack both human empathy and any concept of justice. The better question is why are they this way? (There used to be a theory about punitive toilet training…)

Are you wondering what has set me off this time?

The Hill reports that

The GOP bill to reauthorize the Higher Education Act, introduced by Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-N.C.) on Friday, would eliminate the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program, which erases student debt for those who work for qualifying employers after making payments for 10 years.

The qualifying employers include government organizations and nonprofits, according to the federal student aid website. Those who volunteer for the Peace Corps or AmeriCorps are also eligible.

God forbid we should offer people an incentive to enter into (underpaid) public service! No, we should reserve government positions for people who are able to take advantage of the opportunities–people who can use those positions to line their already-overflowing pockets.

People like Betsy Devos.

The Washington Post reports that DeVos recently awarded her department’s debt-collection contracts to two firms, one of which she had invested in shortly before becoming Secretary of Education.

A company that once had financial ties to Education Secretary Betsy DeVos was one of two firms selected Thursday by the Education Department to help the agency collect overdue student loans. The deal could be worth hundreds of millions of dollars.

Previously, the Department has used as many as seventeen companies to collect overdue student debt. Suddenly, they need just two.

DeVos presumably divested her stake in the successful bidder as a condition of her appointment, but of course, once she leaves, she will be perfectly free to reinvest or engage in other business dealings with a company that now owes her big time.

What makes this “deal” worth hundreds of millions of dollars–and what makes me so livid–is that DeVos is methodically engaging in a process of overturning Obama-era regulations that were–by any measure–efforts to be fair to the students DOE presumably is there to serve.

It was DeVos who proposed eliminating the Public Service Loan provision. It is DeVos who has reversed the Obama Administration’s decision to forgive loan indebtedness from students who were defrauded by predatory for-profit “universities.”

CNBC took a look at some of the DeVos policy changes, noting that terminating the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program would “drastically impact public servants who have made significant financial and career decisions based on PSLF provisions.”

CNBC also reported that

Under the Obama administration, the Department of Education was incentivized to award Federal Student Aid contracts to debt collection companies with the strongest records of helping borrowers and the lowest rates of loan defaults.

One of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos’ first major moves was to revoke this policy, making it more likely for the government to award Federal Student Aid contracts to companies that sell their services for the lowest price. These low-cost collection companies often offer riskier loans and provide less support to individuals trying to navigate the student loan maze.

Betsy DeVos is a poster child for an administration in which absolutely no one has the slightest concept of “the public good”– or, for that matter, ethical governance.

Stuck In The Swamp

Can you stand one more diatribe about Betsy DeVos?

According to Gail Collins at the New York Times, DeVos isn’t just devoting herself to the destruction of public elementary and high schools. She’s after public universities too.

DeVos is the superrich Republican donor who once led a crusade to reform troubled Michigan public schools by turning them into truly terrible private ones. Now she’s in the Trump cabinet, and she seems to be dedicating a lot of her time to, um, lowering higher education.

When no one was watching she hired a lot of people that come from the for-profit colleges,” complained Senator Patty Murray of Washington, who feels the additions are far more interested in protecting their old associates than in overseeing them. Murray is the top Democrat on the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, otherwise known as HELP. These days it’s hard to tell whether that’s a promise of assistance or a cry of distress.

To oversee the critical issue of fraud in higher education, DeVos picked Julian Schmoke Jr., whose former job was a dean of — yes! — a for-profit university. Specifically a school named DeVry. Last year, under fire from state prosecutors and the Federal Trade Commission, DeVry agreed to pay $100 million to students who complained that they had been misled by its recruitment pitch.

Over the past several years, we have learned that students attending these for-profit institutions pay far more, and get far less, than they would at a public college. They have huge dropout rates, and even larger rates of default on the government grants that almost all of them take out. (On the other hand, they have very low rates of employment, despite the rosy promises made by these institutions.)

Although there are some legitimate private colleges, the statistics are pretty devastating.

“The outcomes for people who take out loans at for-profits are abysmal,” said Ben Miller of the Center for American Progress. He added that almost all the students borrow, for courses they could sometimes get for one sixth the price at a community college. And about half the people who borrow default.

As the stories about deceitful for-profits mounted, the Obama administration came up with regulations making it easier for students to refuse to pay their loans if a school had misrepresented their chances of graduating and getting a lucrative career. The rules were supposed to go into effect in July, but DeVos has delayed their implementation.

Not only has DeVos “delayed” implementation of the new regulations, under her management the Department of Education has stopped approving new fraud claims against for-profits, leaving a backlog of more than 87,000.

Give her credit for one educational advance, though: Betsy DeVos is giving us all a lesson on what happens when big political contributions buy a cabinet position for a theocratic ignoramus.

Don’t Confuse Her With Evidence….

Students at one of America’s historically Black colleges recently booed Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, who had (inexplicably) been invited to deliver the graduation speech. Many of the graduates also turned their backs when she spoke.

This behavior was rude–but it was understandable.

Like most of Trump’s Cabinet, DeVos is manifestly unfit for public office. She is an ideologue in the Pence tradition; a theocrat with a rigid and limited worldview who has demonstrated a lack of engagement with, let alone understanding of, the issues that face the department she’s been tapped to head.

DeVos has been a “Betsy One-Note,” focused on voucher programs that despite misleading rhetoric, actually replace public schools with religious ones. She insists that private schools do a better job, despite mounting evidence to the contrary. As the New York Times recently reported,

The confirmation of Betsy DeVos as secretary of education was a signal moment for the school choice movement. For the first time, the nation’s highest education official is someone fully committed to making school vouchers and other market-oriented policies the centerpiece of education reform.

But even as school choice is poised to go national, a wave of new research has emerged suggesting that private school vouchers may harm students who receive them. The results are startling — the worst in the history of the field, researchers say.

Voucher advocacy has gradually become part of GOP ideology, and as Republicans have assumed power in the states, voucher programs have expanded–especially in Indiana. That expansion has allowed researchers to make comparisons that had been less reliable when there were fewer schools to compare, and the results of that research began to emerge in late 2015.

Here are some of those research findings–conclusions that would make an intellectually honest educator revisit her preconceptions:

The first results came in late 2015. Researchers examined an Indiana voucher program that had quickly grown to serve tens of thousands of students under Mike Pence, then the state’s governor. “In mathematics,” they found, “voucher students who transfer to private schools experienced significant losses in achievement.” They also saw no improvement in reading.

The next results came a few months later, in February, when researchers published a major study of Louisiana’s voucher program. Students in the program were predominantly black and from low-income families, and they came from public schools that had received poor ratings from the state department of education, based on test scores. For private schools receiving more applicants than they could enroll, the law required that they admit students via lottery, which allowed the researchers to compare lottery winners with those who stayed in public school.

They found large negative results in both reading and math. Public elementary school students who started at the 50th percentile in math and then used a voucher to transfer to a private school dropped to the 26th percentile in a single year. Results were somewhat better in the second year, but were still well below the starting point.

This is very unusual. When people try to improve education, sometimes they succeed and sometimes they fail. The successes usually register as modest improvements, while the failures generally have no effect at all. It’s rare to see efforts to improve test scores having the opposite result. Martin West, a professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, calls the negative effects in Louisiana “as large as any I’ve seen in the literature” — not just compared with other voucher studies, but in the history of American education research.

It is important to note that these results come from voucher proponents as well as voucher skeptics. As the Times article noted,

In June, a third voucher study was released by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, a conservative think tank and proponent of school choice. The study, which was financed by the pro-voucher Walton Family Foundation, focused on a large voucher program in Ohio. “Students who use vouchers to attend private schools have fared worse academically compared to their closely matched peers attending public schools,” the researchers found. Once again, results were worse in math.

DeVos has been an outspoken opponent of even minimal efforts to regulate schools that accept vouchers, but it has become clear that such regulation is necessary and salutary:

The new voucher studies stand in marked contrast to research findings that well-regulated charter schools in Massachusetts and elsewhere have a strong, positive impact on test scores. But while vouchers and charters are often grouped under the umbrella of “school choice,” the best charters tend to be nonprofit public schools, open to all and accountable to public authorities. The less “private” that school choice programs are, the better they seem to work.

If DeVos has seen these studies or addressed their findings, I haven’t seen it reported.

Betsy DeVos is certainly entitled to live in her own alternate universe. What she isn’t entitled to is a public position that allows her to inflict considerable damage on the rest of us.

If You Can’t Laugh…

Credit where credit is due: Trump and his sorry crew have been an absolute boon to satirists and other creative folks. (If you haven’t seen Melissa McCarthy channeling Sean Spicer on SNL, it’s worth a few minutes of your time. But it isn’t just SNL, Colbert, The Daily Show, et al–Andy Borowitz and other print comics have also been on a roll.)

Even Facebook friends have shared great one-liners. My current favorite is a comment about Trump’s cabinet picks: “I’ve seen better cabinets at IKEA.”

Fundraisers and protests have also become more creative. There were the ubiquitous “pussy hats” of the women’s march, of course, but the snark extends to a recent fundraiser invitation I received.

The fundraiser will benefit the Tri-State Alliance, an LGBTQ/AIDs organization in southern Indiana. (I’ve known the Executive Director for many years, and I can attest that it is a wonderful organization.) The organization’s webpage describes its mission.

The Tri-State Alliance (TSA) is the primary social service and educational organization that serves the diverse gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender communities of Southwestern Indiana, Western Kentucky and Southern Illinois. TSA works to educate our own community through a monthly newsletter and guest speakers, engages the media on relevant LGBT issues, and trains other public/social service organizations through a speakers bureau and diversity education.

TSA coordinates the regional LGBT Youth Group, HIV prevention targeting the gay community, and Lesbian Health Project services. The gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and straight-supporting allies who volunteer for TSA continue to serve the region’s LGBT community and its changing needs.

The fundraising “hook” for this event is its invitation to “Buy Todd Young’s Vote”–a play on the obvious quid pro quo of Young’s expected vote for confirmation that Betsy DeVos’ “bought” with her donations to Young. As the very clever invitation puts it,

Betsy DeVos and her family have donated $72,900 to the campaign of United States Senator Todd Young.

Incidentally, despite all evidence to the contrary, Senator Young thinks that Betsy DeVos would be a great choice to lead the Department of Education.

Betsy DeVos has never set foot in a classroom, did not send her children to public school, cannot distinguish between proficiency and growth, and thinks that guns should be allowed in schools in the event of grizzly attacks. That fictitious grizzly is about as qualified as Ms. DeVos to run the Department of Education.

If Betsy DeVos can buy Senator Young’s vote, we should be allowed to do the same.

If, of course, Senator Young does not wish to accept any funds raised*, all money will be donated to the Tri-State Alliance Youth Group, an LGBTQ Youth Group based in Evansville Indiana.

*or if this tongue-in-cheek fundraising page somehow constitutes a bribe, despite being eerily identical to the actions of Ms. DeVos.

Of course, if Senator Young had any sense of propriety–or shame–he would recuse himself from a vote on DeVos, whose display of profound ignorance during her Senate hearing was both revealing and embarrassing.

Since a sudden eruption of  integrity from Senator Young seems unlikely, I think it would be fitting if the Tri-State Alliance raised an equal or greater amount for young LGBTQ Hoosiers.

You can send contributions here.

 

The Coming Assault on Education

I have noted previously that Trump’s choice for Education Secretary is Betsy DeVos, a dedicated proponent of school privatization. The depth of her commitment to vouchers is matched only by the shallowness of her educational experience and training (she’s never taught nor does she have a degree in education).

Politico looked into DeVos’ history and statements, and began a recent article as follows:

The billionaire philanthropist whom Donald Trump has tapped to lead the Education Department once compared her work in education reform to a biblical battleground where she wants to “advance God’s Kingdom.”

Trump’s pick, Betsy DeVos, a national leader of the school choice movement, has pursued that work in large part by spending millions to promote the use of taxpayer dollars on private and religious schools.

In an audio recording obtained by POLITICO, DeVos and her husband (an Amway billionaire) explained that their Christian faith drives their efforts to reform American education. They believe that school choice leads to “greater Kingdom gain”  and that public schools have “displaced” the Church as the center of communities. They’re convinced that school choice can reverse that trend.

Hoosier readers who see the fundamentalist hand of Mike Pence in the choice of DeVos can find confirmation of those suspicions in a Mother Jones article about Pence’s voucher program.

Pence’s voucher program ballooned into a $135 million annual bonanza almost exclusively benefiting private religious schools—ranging from those teaching the Koran to Christian schools teaching creationism and the Bible as literal truth—at the expense of regular and usually better-performing public schools. Indeed, one of the schools was a madrasa, an Islamic religious school, briefly attended by a young man arrested this summer for trying to join ISIS—just the kind of place Trump’s coalition would find abhorrent.

In Indiana, Pence created one of the largest publicly funded voucher programs in the country. Initially launched in 2011 under Republican Gov. Mitch Daniels, it was sold as a way to give poor, minority children trapped in bad public schools a way out.

Daniels program was relatively small, and focused on low-income families. Pence dramatically increased and redirected it.

By the 2015-16 school year, the number of students using state-funded vouchers had shot up to more than 32,000 in 316 private schools. But Pence’s school choice experiment demonstrates that vouchers can create a host of thorny political problems and potential church-and-state issues. Almost every single one of these voucher schools is religious. The state Department of Education can’t tell parents which or even whether any of the voucher schools are secular. (A state spokeswoman told me Indiana doesn’t collect data on the school’s religious affiliation.) Out of the list of more than 300 schools, I could find only four that weren’t overtly religious and, of those, one was solely for students with Asperger’s syndrome and other autism spectrum disorders, and the other is an alternative school for at-risk students….

Indiana’s choice law prohibits the state from regulating the curriculum of schools getting vouchers, so millions of dollars of the state education budget are subsidizing schools whose curricula teaches creationism and the stories and parables in the Bible as literal truth. Among the more popular textbooks are some from Bob Jones University that are known for teaching that humans and dinosaurs existed on the Earth at the same time and that dragons were real. BJU textbooks have also promoted a positive view of the KKK, writing in one book, “the Klan in some areas of the country tried to be a means of reform, fighting the decline in morality and using the symbol of the cross to target bootleggers, wife beaters and immoral movies.”

Not surprisingly, Indiana children in these voucher schools perform poorly on standardized tests.

The voucher schools can’t necessarily blame low test scores on poverty, either. According to data from the state, today more than 60 percent of the voucher students in Indiana are white, and more than half of them have never even attended any public school, much less a failing one. Some of the fastest growth in voucher use has occurred in some of the state’s most affluent suburbs. The Center for Tax and Budget Accountability, a Chicago-based think tank, recently concluded that because white children’s participation in the voucher program dwarfed the next largest racial group by 44 points, the vouchers were effectively helping to resegregate public schools.

So Indiana taxpayers are subsidizing religious indoctrination with monies that should be supporting the state’s under-resourced public schools. And that’s the model that Donald Trump and Betsy DeVos want to replicate nationwide.