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Betsy DeVos Is a Threat to America's Children

Betsy DeVos Is a Threat to America's Children


All of the nation's youth -- especially LGBT students -- are at risk with Besty DeVos as Education secretary, writes Randi Weingarten of the American Federation of Teachers.

Donald Trump's Education secretary nominee, Betsy DeVos, is an antigay, anti-public education ideologue who poses a threat to the institution of public education and the safety of LGBTQ students.

For LGBTQ kids, school can sometimes be a really tough place to feel like they can be themselves, free from bullying and harassment. That's why we have an obligation as educators, parents, allies, and lawmakers to do everything we can to ensure all kids feel safe, welcome, and supported in our public schools. We need an education secretary who values every child and who will fight alongside us to make our schools safe sanctuaries. Betsy DeVos is not that person.

DeVos has spent her career bankrolling efforts to undermine and privatize public schools, and members of her family have donated to antigay causes, making it harder to protect LGBTQ students from hate and bigotry. Civil rights groups have said they're deeply concerned that she will dismantle the civil rights protections gay and transgender students have finally won.

DeVos's family has a long record of opposing LGBT equality. Foundations run by her parents and her husband's parents have donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to Focus on the Family, a group that's promoted damaging gay "conversion therapy" and called homosexuality "preventable and treatable." A foundation run by her husband's brother and sister-in-law donated $500,000 to the antigay National Organization for Marriage, and a foundation run by DeVos and her husband has donated more than $100,000 to the Institute for Marriage and Public Policy. DeVos's late father, Edgar Prince, helped found the Family Research Council; her mother, Elsa Prince Broekhuizen, sits on the boards of the FRC and the Acton Institute, which sponsored a conference held by an antigay hate group. Unsurprisingly, DeVos wants to immediately reverse the Obama administration's hard-won protections for LGBTQ students.

How are LGBTQ students supposed to feel safe and supported with an Education secretary who believes they should be sent to conversion therapy? DeVos's nomination threatens to reverse the work that educators, partners, and the Obama administration have done to create welcoming and safe environments for transgender and gay students. A scion of Michigan's moneyed class, she is far outside the policy mainstream in ways that pose an existential threat to kids' education and their safety.

DeVos's education record is just as troubling. In 2000, DeVos and her husband funded a multimillion-dollar ballot initiative to create private school vouchers in Michigan. Voters rejected it by more than a 2-to-1 ratio. But she was able to push through a vast expansion of for-profit charter schools and has opposed any effort to make them accountable to the public. Charters, especially the for-profit version favored by DeVos, are far less likely to serve the needs of LGBTQ students, students with disabilities, and English-language learners.

What's the result of all this? Student performance has declined across Michigan and nearly half of all its charter schools rank at the bottom of America's schools. A yearlong investigation by the Detroit Free Press revealed rampant problems in the state's for-profit charter schools -- corruption, cronyism, poor performance, and lack of accountability.

DeVos is pushing her agenda with zero public education experience and zero knowledge of how to create a safe and welcoming school environment. She hasn't taught in a public school, she hasn't served on a school board, and neither she nor her children ever attended public schools. She says her engagement in education reform springs from a religious commitment to greater "Kingdom gain" in ways that reflect a very specific conservative religious point of view.

As inauguration day looms, our most vulnerable citizens continue to suffer from threats and abuse perpetrated in the name of Trump. But this cannot and must not become the new normal -- especially for kids in school who lack a clear escape route from daily bullying and harassment. I am horrified that students are learning all the wrong lessons from our president-elect and his Education secretary nominee -- that they should not respect difference, that they must not be different, that their education and personal safety is threatened for speaking out. Betsy DeVos has shown no interest in protecting them.

A president has the right to appoint nominees, but the Constitution gives the Senate the role of questioning and consenting to those nominees, and we expect them to do their job. Will she renounce antigay causes? Does she still believe in conversion therapy? How will she protect transgender students? How can she show such antipathy toward the students she is sworn to protect?

Some lines cannot be crossed. At her confirmation hearing next week, senators from both parties must draw a sharp line between Betsy DeVos and our kids.

RANDI WEINGARTEN is the president of the American Federation of Teachers.

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