If you doubt there is a war on public education going on under the Trump administration you simply haven’t been paying attention. It is nothing new; Republicans have been opponents of public education for years. In states like North Carolina, where the Republicans took control in 2011 we have been living with it for years. With Trump’s inauguration and Mike Pence’s tie breaking Senate vote to confirm Betsy DeVos as Secretary of Education it went national in 2017. Let’s explore.
DeVos’ qualifications and true agenda need to be explored to understand what is going on. DeVos’ “qualifications” are that she is unqualified for her job and largely ignorant of what the mission of the Department of Education is. That and the millions her family has donated to Republicans made her a perfect candidate to run Trump’s Department of Education.
In late October DeVos took action in her capacity as Secretary of Education withdrawing over 600 regulations which she claims are outdated. 72 of them dealt with special education. DeVos is an advocate of charter and private schools which for the most part do not play by the same rules as traditional public schools. (Although they don’t resemble them, legally charter schools are public schools.) Among other shortcomings, they do not have provisions to handle special education students. If we remove the rules that criticism goes away. If children suffer in the process people like DeVos and Trump simply do not care. If the GOP donors who own for-profit private schools make more money the Republicans are happy and their campaign bank accounts are a bit fatter.
Department secretaries and political appointees come and go with each new administration but career employees stay on and do most of the real work. The Department of Education is no exception and that presented a challenge for Trump and DeVos. Betsy put forward at least a partial solution late last month when she instituted an early retirement/buyout program. Under the program an eligible employee would be offered up to $25,000 to take an early exit. If you are trying to destroy a federal department getting rid of people who know what they are doing and are dedicated to the true cause of the agency is a great starting point. You can claim it is a fiscally conservative move that will save money and trim a bloated staff. Then you don’t fill the positions and slow walk anything you don’t favor using the excuse that you are understaffed. You have also eliminated a lot of in-house challenges to your harmful policies. The senior people with the most “juice” and security aren’t there anymore to challenge you. Junior people are easier to indoctrinate and/or intimidate. In fact any new hires are “your people” so you leave a legacy of harm after your administration has exited Washington.
Now as the Trump Tower Tax Cut makes its way through Congress the House version is also aiding the war on public education. (We don’t know about the Senate version yet.) The interest on student loans would no longer be deductible, effectively making a college education even more expensive. Many employers pay part or all of the tuition of their employees. Under the House GOP proposal that would now be taxable. Many universities offer tuition breaks (often very substantial ones) for the children of their employees. Those breaks often help schools recruit and retain very valuable people. Under the Trump Tower Tax Cut those dollars become taxable. All those provisions hurt the poor and middle classes while making a college education less attainable for all but the elite.
The Republicans are afraid of public education because it teaches critical thinking. If you do some independent research and are capable of critical thinking you are much less likely to vote Republican and they know it.
People like DeVos want indoctrination centers not educational institutions. They don’t care about educating the masses and elevating the best and brightest in a meritocracy. They want to retain wealth in the small circle they are fortunate to occupy. If some of their friends can make a few bucks in the process and donate some of it back to the GOP all the better. I have long stated that one of the three pillars holding up today’s Republican Party is greed and Betsy DeVos is a poster lady for it.
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