Assessing Trump’s pick to lead Department of Education

Listen
President-elect Donald Trump has tapped Michigan businesswoman Betsy DeVos for Secretary of Education. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

President-elect Donald Trump has tapped Michigan businesswoman Betsy DeVos for Secretary of Education. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

Betsy DeVos, Donald Trump’s pick for Secretary of Education, is slated to appear before the Senate this week for a confirmation hearing.

DeVos is a fierce advocate for school choice — both in expansion of charter and private school vouchers — and her confirmation could mean a major shift in American education.

“To some people DeVos is kind of a lightning rod,” said Keystone Crossroad’s education reporter Kevin McCorry said. DeVos has been an advocate for charters in Michigan since the 1990s where her pro-charter lobby has curried heavy favor in the state’s GOP-dominated house. 

Devos, married to billionaire Michigan businessman Richard DeVos whose family founded Amway and now owns the NBA’s Orlando Magic, has not been the most popular person in Detroit and other urban centers. 

What DeVos could mean to Pennsylvania schools, particularly those in Philadelphia, remains to be seen. McCorry said it all depends on who is in charge of the state.

“Right now, Gov. Tom Wolf’s Department of Education, it wouldn’t line up at all,” McCorry said. “Wolf has been somewhat hostile to the charter sector and has pushed for more investment in more traditional public schools. DeVos comes from a point ideologically where it doesn’t matter who is administering it. 

“She would argue that the free market needs to be expanded and tested further to see if that, in and of itself, can provide better opportunities for kids,” he added. “Open schools, see who can do the best, and the best and brightest would come — in theory.”

While charter proponents and GOP representatives in Michigan are fans of DeVos, some of her biggest detractors are teachers unions and parents in urban areas who prefer to send their kids to traditional public schools. McCorry said that concern has been openly expressed by union leaders such as Randi Weingarten of the American Federation of Teachers. 

“There’s plenty of people on the traditional public school advocacy side who are fearful of the pick because it threatens their idea of public schools as a civic, communal, neighborhood-based entity, that there’s clear accountability lines at least as far as how decisions get made,” McCorry said.

“When you have charter schools, private schools, and voucher systems, that accountability structure becomes much more diffuse. You have so many different people in charge that it’s sometimes hard to know where the buck stops.”

For more of Jennifer Lynn’s conversation with Kevin McCorry about Betsy DeVos, press play at the top of the page.

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

It will take 126,000 members this year for great news and programs to thrive. Help us get to 100% of the goal.