Educate All Students: Larry Miller's Blog

November 24, 2016

Wisconsin school-choice supporters cheer DeVos pick

Filed under: American Federation for Children,Trump,Vouchers — millerlf @ 7:25 am

Jim Bender, of School Choice Wisconsin, celebrates the decisions of Trump, the President elected on a platform of racism, misogyny, and xenophobia

Erin Richards , Milwaukee Journal Sentinel November 23, 2016

With her deep ties to Wisconsin’s private-school choice movement and disdain for unions thwarting reforms, Betsy DeVos, president-elect Donald Trump’s nominee for U.S. Education Secretary, was a name that sent shock waves through the state’s education circles Wednesday.

“It is completely jazzing the entire school-choice community nationwide,” said Jim Bender, president of advocacy group School Choice Wisconsin. “It’s like, game on.”

Gov. Scott Walker congratulated DeVos, whom he called his friend, on Twitter while Democratic Wisconsin Congressman Mark Pocan tweeted the nomination was “really bad news for public schools.”

DeVos is married to Dick DeVos, and both are heirs to the fortune amassed by Michigan-based direct sales company Amway, which was co-founded by Dick’s father, Richard DeVos. Betsy DeVos was active in Republican politics and has focused on schools as board chair of her national advocacy group, American Federation for Children, based in Washington, D.C. The group has funneled millions of dollars into campaigns around the country to elect school choice friendly lawmakers and to lobby aggressively for school choice legislation.

AFC spent almost $5 million on Wisconsin elections alone since 2010, according to liberal advocacy group One Wisconsin Now, which railed against DeVos in a statement Wednesday.

“Being a billionaire whose hobby is underwriting campaigns to steal our public school dollars and send them to unaccountable private schools disqualifies her from being our Secretary of Education,” the statement said.

DeVos believes in upending the status quo in education and has denounced politics and slow-moving governmental processes as methods for doing so. Instead, she supports competition in the form of charter schools and voucher schools to provide more educational opportunities.

“How many of you believe our education system will ever be fixed by political parties?” she asked in Austin last year when she spoke at the SXSW education conference. “I have some bad news for you,” she continued for anyone whose hands were raised. “You are delusional.”

The American Federation for Children actually had its origins in Milwaukee in 1998; it operated under a different name and helped support the Milwaukee voucher program. DeVos remains close with Scott Jensen, the former Republican speaker of the state Assembly who was barred from running for public office in Wisconsin after his role in the state caucus scandal. Since 2010, Jensen has been a senior adviser for AFC, a position that’s allowed him to skillfully direct the nonprofit’s efforts to spread school choice programs in the form of vouchers, tax credits and education savings accounts.

Bender said the DeVos nomination is a powerful show of support for Trump’s agenda for change, which includes a proposal to make $20 billion available for children to attend the public or private schools of their choice. There is no plan yet for where that federal money would come from.

“There will be two big winners: The roles of local units of government and the role that parents play in education,” Bender said. “It looks like you’re going to have a de-emphasis put on the role of the federal government in education.”

Bill Hughes, chief academic officer of the Seton Catholic Schools network in Milwaukee and a former public-schools superintendent, said the DeVos nomination is a clear shift in educational direction that’s somewhat consistent with where Wisconsin has been heading for years.

“There is going to be considerable discussion and ferment about all of this — which should lead to better policy and ultimately better schools in public, choice and charter sectors,” Hughes said.

Contact Erin Richards at erin.richards@jrn.com or (414) 224-2705 or @emrichards.

 

 

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