Educate All Students, Support Public Education

February 25, 2017

Betsy deVos, feeding children is not a joking matter. She says “there’s no such thing as a free lunch.”

Filed under: DeVos — millerlf @ 10:44 am
Betsy DeVos is in charge of a system that literally serves millions of free lunches. She opened remarks to the ultra-conservative CPAC on Thursday with a joke about free lunch.
Andy Martino
Feb—24—2017 02:11PM EST
The new secretary of education stepped to the mic at the Conservative Political Action Conference on Thursday, and warmed up the crowd with a joke that played well in that particular room.
“I’m Betsy DeVos,” the secretary, who arrived at the job with no experience in the public school system, said. “You may have heard some of the wonderful things the mainstream media has called me lately. I, however, pride myself on being called a mother, a grandmother, a life partner, and perhaps the first person to tell Bernie Sanders to his face that there’s no such thing as a free lunch.”
Hahaha, Bernie Sanders. Whatever on that. It’s a speech at CPAC, where he’s an obvious target, and this was an apparent reference to DeVos’ back-and-forth with Sanders during her confirmation hearing last month. And maybe DeVos just didn’t consider the impact of the phrase “free lunch” in the context of her new job. But here’s the problem: She’s now in charge of a school system that serves free and subsidized lunches to more than 30 million students every day. While the Department of Agriculture actually pays for this program, DeVos’ tone-deaf joke made her appear oblivious to the fact that free school lunches are often the only thing that keep many low-income kids from going hungry.
According to government statistics, 15.8 million, or 12.5 percent, of U.S. households were “food insecure” in 2015, meaning they were unable to acquire enough food to meet the needs of all family members. Multiple studies have shown that hungry children struggle in school, with demonstrably lower math scores, and a greater likelihood of having to repeat a grade.
I spent three years teaching in a public middle and high school in Brooklyn, and saw this play out on a human level: If a kid eats, he or she has a chance to be engaged in class. If a kid is hungry, he or she will probably stumble through the day, a weak and grumpy zombie, head down on desk, no chance to learn.
But as LeVar Burton would say, don’t take my word for it. Here are some facts that might help the billionaire secretary realize that there is, in fact, such a thing as a free lunch, and it’s important.
The National School Lunch Act came into being in 1946, when it was signed by President Harry Truman. Under the law, the federal government reimburses schools for students who qualify for the program. Through 2012, the program had served more than 224 billion lunches.
Children from families with incomes below 130 percent of the poverty level — an annual income of $30,615 for a family of four — are eligible for free lunches. Children with incomes between 130 percent and 185 percent of the poverty level — $30,615 to $43,568 for a family of four — are eligible for reduced-price meals, for which students can be charged no more than 40 cents.
According to government statistics, the program serves more than 100,000 schools and feeds more 30 million American children each day.
The program cost $11.6 billion in fiscal year 2012, a pittance compared to many other expenditures. That same year, the U.S. devoted $781 billion to Social Security, $676 billion to defense spending, and $86 billion to transportation spending.
The program provides school staff and students with nutrition education, in an effort to promote health and combat child obesity.
You get the idea. Free lunches are important, and DeVos should have found another zinger.

February 24, 2017

Dismal Voucher Results Surprise Researchers as DeVos Era Begins

Filed under: DeVos — millerlf @ 2:28 pm

The voucher idea sat dormant for years before taking root in a few places, most notably Milwaukee. Yet even as many of Mr. Friedman’s other ideas became Republican Party orthodoxy, most national G.O.P. leaders committed themselves to a different theory of educational improvement: standards, testing and accountability. That movement reached an apex when the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 brought a new focus on tests and standards to nearly every public school nationwide. The law left voucher supporters with crumbs: a small demonstration project in Washington, D.C.

But broad political support for No Child Left Behind proved short-lived. Teachers unions opposed the reforms from the left, while libertarians and states-rights conservatives denounced it from the right. When Republicans took control of more governor’s mansions and state legislatures in the 2000s, they expanded vouchers to an unprecedented degree. Three of the largest programs sprang up in Indiana, Louisiana and Ohio, which collectively enroll more than a third of the 178,000 voucher students nationwide.

Most of the new programs heeded Mr. Friedman’s original call for the government to enforce “minimum standards” by requiring private schools that accept vouchers to administer standardized state tests. Researchers have used this data to compare voucher students with similar children who took the same tests in public school. Many of the results were released over the last 18 months, while Donald J. Trump was advocating school choice on the campaign trail.

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.


February 2, 2017

 The 9 Most Damning Moments From Betsy DeVos’s Confirmation Hearing

Filed under: DeVos,Trump — millerlf @ 3:45 pm

By Helin Jung

Jan 18, 2017

Betsy DeVos faced senators  at her confirmation hearing before the Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions. The 59-year-old billionaire Republican donor lacks any experience working in education but has pushed for voucher programs for over 20 years.

During her hearing, DeVos revealed gaps in her knowledge about education policy and laws, prompting some on social media to say that it was like a job interview gone wrong. Here were some of concerning moments from the proceedings.

  1. When she didn’t know the difference between proficiency and growth.

Sen. Al Franken, Democrat from Minnesota, asked DeVos about the “relative advantage” of assessing schools using proficiency over growth, but DeVos did not seem to grasp the difference between the two measurements.

“I think if I’m understanding your question correctly around proficiency,” DeVos said,
“I would also correlate it to competency and mastery so that each student is measured according to the advancement that they’re making in each subject area.”

“Well, that’s growth,” Franken said. “That’s not proficiency.”

DeVos could not take a stand on which measurement she preferred because she had trouble with the definitions of the two means of tracking performance in schools.

  1. When she couldn’t say that guns shouldn’t be in schools.

Sen. Chris Murphy, Democrat from Connecticut, questioned DeVos about her views on whether guns should be allowed in schools. Murphy was a senator during the Sandy Hook massacre in 2012 and has forcefully advocated for gun-control laws.

DeVos responded that states should decide school gun policies. Citing Sen. Mike Enzi of Wyoming, DeVos said, “I would imagine that there is probably a gun in the schools to protect from potential grizzlies.”

The grizzly bear comment provided fodder for commenters on Twitter:

Trump has stated that he is opposed to gun-free zones in schools and that trained teachers should be allowed to have guns, according to CNN.

  1. When she seemed unfamiliar with the federal law protecting students with disabilities.

Sen. Tim Kaine, Democrat from Virginia, asked DeVos about the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), which guarantees services to students with disabilities. It has been a federal law since 1990. Kaine asked if all schools should meet the requirements of the law.

“I think that is a matter that’s best left to the states,” DeVos said.

Further questioning from Kaine seemed to reveal DeVos’s lack of understanding about IDEA. Later, Sen. Maggie Hassan, Democrat from New Hampshire, asked more pointedly about DeVos’s knowledge of IDEA.

“So were you unaware when I just asked you about the IDEA that it was a federal law?” Hassan asked.

“I may have confused it,” DeVos said.

  1. When she couldn’t say whether she would continue funding public schools.

DeVos, a staunch opponent of the public school system, has been accused of wanting to gut public schools, which provide the education for 90 percent of children in the United States.

“Can you commit to us tonight that you will not work to privatize public schools or cut a single penny from public education?” asked Sen. Patty Murray, Democrat from Washington.

“I look forward, if confirmed, to working with you to talk about how we address the needs of all parents and all students,” DeVos said. “We acknowledge today that not all schools are working for the students that are assigned to them. I’m hopeful that we can work together to find common ground and ways that we can solve those issues and empower parents to make choices on behalf of their children that are right for them.”

“I take that as not being willing to commit to not privatizing public schools or cutting money from education,” Murray said.

“I guess I wouldn’t characterize it in that way,” DeVos said.

  1. When she couldn’t state definitively that all schools should be held to the same standards of accountability.

When Sen. Kaine asked DeVos about whether she would “insist upon equal accountability in any K-12 school or educational program that receives taxpayer funding whether public, public charter, or private,” DeVos could not commit to a yes or no response, and instead repeated the phrase, “I support accountability” four times.

DeVos has been a lightning rod in her home state of Michigan, where she has thrown her resources behind deregulating charter schools. In Michigan, analysis has shown that charter schools perform more poorly than public schools.

  1. When she wouldn’t commit to upholding the Department of Education’s current guidance around campus sexual assault.

Sen. Bob Casey, Democrat from Pennsylvania, asked DeVos about sexual assault in schools. She agreed with Casey that the issue is a problem but would not commit to upholding to the guidance issued by the Department of Education in 2011 on how sexual violence should be addressed on campuses, saying it would be “premature” to make that commitment.

DeVos did assert during the hearing that assault “is never OK,” and that she would characterize Trump’s comments about grabbing women by the genitals as sexual assault.

  1. When she would not commit to enforcing gainful employment regulations for for-profit schools.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren, Democrat from Massachusetts, questioned DeVos on her experience with financial aid and student loans (DeVos had none). Warren brought up the potential conflict of interest presented by Trump, whose own for-profit institution, Trump University, was accused of fraud in multiple lawsuits that were settled for $25 million.

Warren explained that there were rules already in place — gainful employment regulations — that protect students from getting cheated by for-profit schools (one analysis found that student debt at for-profit colleges increased almost $200 billion in 14 years; the gainful employment regulations require schools to meet a minimum debt-to-income ratio).


Warren asked, “What I want to know is, will you commit to enforcing these rules to ensure that no career college receives federal funds unless they can prove that they are actually preparing their students for gainful employment and not cheating them?”

DeVos would not commit to enforcing the regulations and instead said that she would “certainly review that rule and see that it’s actually achieving what the intentions are.”

  1. When she did not think her family’s enormous contributions to the Republican Party helped her get the nomination.

DeVos acknowledged that it was “possible” that she and her family have collectively given $200 million to the GOP.

Sen. Bernie Sanders, independent from Vermont, asked DeVos, “Do you think, if you were not a multi-billionaire, if your family had not made hundreds of millions of dollars of contributions to the Republican party, that you would be sitting here today?”

DeVos answered, “Senator, as a matter of fact, I do think that there would be that possibility. I’ve worked very hard on behalf of parents and children for the last almost 30 years to be a voice for students and to empower parents to make decisions on behalf of their children, primarily low-income children.”

In an opinion piece, DeVos once wrote that she expects a “return on our investment” when she and her family make political donations. “Furthermore, we expect the Republican party to use the money to promote these policies, and yes, to win elections.”

  1. When she called the fact that she was listed as a vice president of her mother’s foundation a “clerical error.”

Sen. Franken asked DeVos about her family’s support of anti-LBTQ policies and whether she believed in conversion therapy. “I’ve never believed in that,” she said. “First of all, let me say, I fully embrace equality and I believe in the innate value of every single human being and that all students, no matter their age, should be able to attend a school and feel safe and be free of discrimination.”

DeVos’s family comes into question on the issue of conversion therapy because, as pointed out by The Intercept and Vice News, DeVos’s mother’s nonprofit, the Edgar and Elsa Prince Foundation, gave money to Focus on the Family, which states that “individuals should have the availability of professional therapy options for unwanted homosexual attractions and behavior.”

Sen. Hassan asked DeVos about being on the board of the Edgar and Elsa Prince Foundation. DeVos denied this. When questioned again about forms listing her for years as a vice president of the foundation, DeVos attributed this to a “clerical error.”

It suggests a discrepancy between what DeVos outwardly states she believes and what she and her family members support monetarily.

This post has been updated.

Follow Helin on Instagram.


Howard Fuller Endorsement of Betsy DeVos

Filed under: DeVos — millerlf @ 2:55 pm

January 19, 2017

Trevor Noah Eviscerates Betsy DeVos Over Her Confirmation Hearing for Education Secretary

Filed under: DeVos,Trump — millerlf @ 2:12 pm

Watch Trevor Noah: Betsy DeVos gets an “F” at the confirmation hearings.

January 7, 2017

Michigan Sen. Debbie Stabenow rejects Betsy DeVos as education secretary

Filed under: DeVos — millerlf @ 9:34 am

Todd Spangler , Detroit Free Press

WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., sat down today with Betsy DeVos, President-elect Donald Trump’s west Michigan pick to be education secretary – but DeVos won’t be getting her vote.

“Our conversation reaffirmed my strong concerns about her nomination,” Stabenow said. “Betsy DeVos and her family have a long record of pushing policies that I believe have seriously undermined public education in Michigan and failed our children.  Therefore, I cannot support (her).”

DeVos, a former state Republican Party chairman and wife of former Amway head Dick DeVos, has long been an advocate of education reform, promoting charter schools and private schools through vouchers and other means that critics say undermine traditional public schools.

DeVos has argued that public dollars should flow to families who then get to pick the schools they deem best, saying such a system would create competition and improve education overall. But public education supporters say that drains funding from their institutions and students, who are already suffering from too little investment.

Stabenow said she asked DeVos “a number of tough questions about her record in Michigan” during the interview.

Ed Patru, a spokesman for a group called Friends of Betsy DeVos, which is supporting her nomination, downplayed Stabenow’s characterization of the meeting, calling it “a great conversation” and expressing confidence that the two can find “common ground” such as they have in the past on school financing when Stabenow was a state legislator.

The Senate Health, Education, Labor & Pensions Committee has set a hearing on DeVos’ nomination next Wednesday. With rules requiring only a simple majority vote in the Senate and Republicans in control, DeVos’ confirmation is likely.

December 20, 2016

Ex-MPS Board Member Bruce Thompson on Trump’s Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos

Filed under: Charter Schools,DeVos — millerlf @ 10:58 am

See article at UrbanMilwaukee:

December 15, 2016

MTEA President: DeVos will be Disaster

Filed under: DeVos — millerlf @ 8:31 am

Kim Schroeder MJ Sentinel 12/15/16

Mark Twain said, “We believe that out of the public school grows the greatness of a nation.”

Public schools are a fundamental piece of American democracy, with 91% of all American students attending public schools. They remain the only educational institutions with the capacity, commitment and legal obligation to educate all students. Defunding our public schools would be a threat to the quality of life and well-being of children in every Zip code.

But now, this most cherished of American democratic institutions is facing its greatest threat with the appointment by presidentelect Donald Trump of billionaire Betsy DeVos as education secretary. De-Vos, a longstanding member of the GOP corporate elite, is known for some of the most aggressive failed free-market experiments seen in America’s publicschools. DeVos’ track record speaks clearly. If she is confirmed by the Senate, students who attend public elementary and secondary schools will see billions of dollars siphoned from their public schools into unaccountable privatevouchers and charters.

Some Trump backers claim that they wanted to shake up the establishment, but DeVos comes from a family of wellfinanced billionaires tightly woven into the Republican, corporate-dominated political machine. They have helped fund every Republic presidential candidate for the last 50 years and are deeply embedded in the world of dark money groups such as Americans for Prosperity, ALEC, and Blackwater.

Betsy DeVos was one of the key players who pushed for Michigan’s charter school law, which passed in 1993. The disaster of Detroit’s private charter system is her legacy.

Nearly $1 billion of public dollars are siphoned away from Michigan public schools every year. According to the New York Times, “over the past five years, divisive politics and educational ideology and a scramble for money have combined to produce a public education fiasco that is perhaps unparalleled in the United States.” For-profit companies operate over 80% of Detroit’s charters, more than in any other state.

Critics may say that not all charter schools are bad,which may be true. But only a small percentage of private charters outperform traditional public schools. And private schools serve fewer English-language learners andchildren with special needs; expel a disproportionatenumber of minority students; and, even though they are funded with public dollars, are not held to the same legal standards as public schools. We should not consider funding these schools with public dollars unless they are held to the same standards as public schools.

The Milwaukee Teachers’ Education Association represents the educators who work with the children and families of Milwaukee Public Schools. We cannot stand by as the private school profiteers cheer, waiting for DeVos to funnel every last dollar from our public schools into their bank accounts — without any strings attached. This single cabinet appointment could undo decades of advances in public education set up to protect the educational rights of every child in this nation.

Kim Schroeder is president of the Milwaukee Teachers’ Education Association.

How Trump’s Education Nominee Bent Detroit to Her Will on Charter Schools

Filed under: DeVos — millerlf @ 8:20 am

Few disagreed that schools in Detroit were a mess: a chaotic mix of charters and traditional public schools, the worst-performing in the nation.

So city leaders across the political spectrum agreed on a fix, with legislation to provide oversight and set standards on how to open schools and close bad ones.

But the bill died without even getting a final vote. And the person most influential in killing it is now President-elect Donald J. Trump’s nominee to oversee the nation’s public schools, Betsy DeVos.

he bill’s proposals are common in many states and accepted by many supporters of school choice, like a provision to stop failing charter operators from creating new schools. But Ms. DeVos argued that this kind of oversight would create too much bureaucracy and limit choice. A believer in a freer market than even some free market economists would endorse, Ms. DeVos pushed back on any regulation as too much regulation. Charter schools should be allowed to operate as they wish; parents would judge with their feet.

Detroit Public Schools, she argued, should simply be shut down and the system turned over to charters, or the tax dollars given to parents in the form of vouchers to attend private schools.

“She is committed to an ideological stance that is solely about the free market, at the expense of practicality and the basic needs of students in the most destabilized environment in the country,” said Tonya Allen, the president of the Skillman Foundation, a nonprofit that works with Detroit children, and a co-chairwoman of the coalition that produced the report that became the basis for the legislation last spring.

“If she was showing herself present in places and learning from the practitioners, that’s a fine combination,” Ms. Allen said. “But Betsy never showed up in Detroit. She was very eager to impose experimentation on students that she has not spent time with and children that she does not have consequence for.”

Ms. DeVos has a long career as an education philanthropist and lobbyist, but not as an educator. She and her husband, Dick, an heir to the Amway fortune, are considered the most powerful Republicans in Michigan. In the debate over Detroit schools, Republican lawmakers say, Ms. DeVos withheld her financial support until they agreed to kill the bill.

And they were rewarded well when they did: Ms. DeVos’s family began a flood of donations to Republicans that totaled $1.45 million in seven weeks.

Ms. DeVos declined to be interviewed. But her allies say her views have been misinterpreted.

“She’s never said choice and choice alone is the panacea for public education,” said Gary Naeyaert, the lobbyist who leads the Great Lakes Education Project, which Ms. DeVos founded to advance charter schools in Michigan in 2001 after her family had spent nearly $5.8 million on a losing initiative to establish statewide school vouchers. “It’s choice, quality and accountability.”

Hers was a different version of choice, quality and accountability, however, than that envisioned by those who drafted and supported the legislation: a broad coalition of charter school and teachers’ union leaders, the Detroit chamber of commerce and some of the city’s most prominent Republican philanthropists and politicians, its Democratic mayor and the state’s Republican governor.

“The misinformation campaign was horrendous,” said Thomas Stallworth III, a former state legislator who lobbied on behalf of the coalition. And the sway of her contributions was too much to overcome. “There’s no way we could compete with that. We don’t have those kinds of resources.”

Ms. DeVos and her husband had lobbied hard for the state law that established charter schools in 1994. It allowed an unusually large number of organizations to start charter schools, which are publicly funded but privately run. But it created little oversight.

Even charter school supporters now criticize Detroit as one of the most unregulated markets in the country. About 80 percent of the state’s charters are operated for profit, far higher than anywhere else.

In 2011, the DeVoses and the Great Lakes project lobbied successfully to lift a cap on the number of charter schools, fighting off a provision that would have kept failing schools from expanding.

In Detroit, which now has a greater proportion of charters than any city but New Orleans, one result was a glut of schools as more charters opened but the city’s population continued to decline. Yet while there are too many seats in schools downtown, there are not enough in the poorest, most remote neighborhoods, where most students live.

Traditional and charter schools alike compete with televisions, laptops and bicycles for students — and the taxpayer dollars that follow them. More than 150 schools have opened or closed in the last seven years, and it is not unusual to find students who change schools every year, and teachers who do so more often than that.

With more than a dozen organizations issuing charters, it is hard for parents to get the information they need to inform their choices. And, in a city of 140 square miles, the highest-performing schools usually remain out of reach to the poorest students, because most schools do not offer transportation, and the city bus service is unreliable.

Most charters have failed to improve on the dismal performance of the traditional public schools. High-performing national charter networks have stayed away because of the instability of the market. The Walton Family Foundation, which has committed $1 billion over the next five years to expanding charters and choice, similarly withdrew its money from Detroit earlier this year.

The legislation proposed earlier this year by Goeff Hansen, a Republican state senator, would have paid off the debt of the city’s traditional public schools, which were on the brink of bankruptcy, and returned control of those schools from the state to a locally elected school board.

But the provision that proved most controversial to the DeVoses would have established a Detroit Education Commission, appointed by the mayor. With three members from charter schools, three from the traditional public schools and one an expert in educational accountability, the commission was to come up with an A-to-F grading system for all schools, and evaluate which neighborhoods in the city most needed schools.

School operators that earned below an A or B could not expand without the commission’s signing off on their location. Schools that earned an F three years in a row could be closed.

Ms. DeVos and her husband wrote legislators urging them to reject any legislation that included the commission. Why, they argued, should residents have choice in where they shop for food and travel, but not in schools? She wrote a Detroit News op-ed arguing to “retire” Detroit Public Schools and “liberate all students” to use tax dollars to attend public or charter schools of their choice.

Leaders of 20 charter schools in Detroit, including some of the highest-performing, made a last-ditch effort to urge the Legislature to adopt the commission. “We have to be looking at every possible way to expand the choices and the opportunities in the neighborhoods for families,” Clark Durant, a onetime Republican candidate for the United States Senate and the co-founder of a network of schools, said at a news conference alongside Mayor Mike Duggan. “And I believe this is the beginning of that effort.”

The legislation passed the State Senate. But in the House of Representatives, support fell away, as leaders of the Republican caucus reminded the members of how much financial support the DeVoses could withhold.

They warned that the DeVoses would finance primary challenges against Republicans who defied her, as they had done to one who voted against the bill to lift the cap on charter schools five years earlier.

The DeVoses, said Representative Dave Pagel, a Republican who supported the commission, “made arguments that were strongly heard, and they prevailed.”

Another Republican, declining to comment for fear of alienating Ms. DeVos when she is poised to become a cabinet secretary, sent a link to an article detailing the DeVoses’ financial contributions to Republicans after the vote, saying it explained all there was to explain.

The House passed a bill that never included the language establishing the commission. The bill paid off the debt of Detroit Public Schools and returned the city’s traditional public schools to local control. And it will allow the state to close the schools at the bottom of existing state rankings, which Mr. Naeyaert said was proof that Ms. DeVos supported measures to ensure quality.

But that will mean shutting down mostly traditional public schools, which in Detroit serve the neediest students, and further desert students in neighborhoods where charters have largely declined to go.

“My complaint around this is not that you disagree,” said Ms. Allen, at the Skillman Foundation, “but that you never could come up with another solution to deal with the practical issues of poor public policy that is not only eroding a traditional school system, but eroding all schools.”

Betsy DeVos and God’s Plan for Schools

Filed under: DeVos — millerlf @ 8:16 am


BOSTON — At the rightmost edge of the Christian conservative movement, there are those who dream of turning the United States into a Christian republic subject to “biblical laws.” In the unlikely figure of Donald J. Trump, they hope to have found their greatest champion yet. He wasn’t “our preferred candidate,” the Christian nationalist David Barton said in June, but he could be “God’s candidate.”

Consider the president-elect’s first move on public education. Jerry Falwell Jr., the president of Liberty University, the largest Christian university in the nation, says that he was Mr. Trump’s first pick for secretary of education. Liberty University teaches creationism alongside evolution.

When Mr. Falwell declined, President-elect Trump offered the cabinet position to Betsy DeVos. In most news coverage, Ms. DeVos is depicted as a member of the Republican donor class and a leading advocate of school vouchers programs.

That is true enough, but it doesn’t begin to describe the broader conservative agenda she’s been associated with.

Betsy DeVos stands at the intersection of two family fortunes that helped to build the Christian right. In 1983, her father, Edgar Prince, who made his money in the auto parts business, contributed to the creation of the Family Research Council, which the Southern Poverty Law Center identifies as extremist because of its anti-L.G.B.T. language.

Her father-in-law, Richard DeVos Sr., the co-founder of Amway, a company built on “multilevel marketing” or what critics call pyramid selling, has been funding groups and causes on the economic and religious right since the 1970s.

Ms. DeVos is a chip off the old block. At a 2001 gathering of conservative Christian philanthropists, she singled out education reform as a way to “advance God’s kingdom.” In an interview, she and her husband, Richard DeVos Jr., said that school choice would lead to “greater kingdom gain.”

And so the family tradition continues, funding the religious right through a network of family foundations — among others, the couple’s own, as well as the Edgar and Elsa Prince Foundation, on whose board Ms. DeVos has served along with her brother, Erik Prince, founder of the military contractor Blackwater. According to Conservative Transparency, a liberal watchdog that tracks donor funding through tax filings, these organizations have funded conservative groups including: the Alliance Defending Freedom, the legal juggernaut of the religious right; the Colorado-based Christian ministry Focus on the Family; and the Mackinac Center for Public Policy.

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Like other advocates of school voucher programs, Ms. DeVos presents her plans as a way to improve public education and give families more choice. But the family foundations’ money supports a far more expansive effort.

The evangelical pastor and broadcaster D. James Kennedy, whose Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church is a beneficiary of DeVos largess, said in a 1986 sermon that children in public education were being “brainwashed in Godless secularism.” More recently, in 2005, he told followers to “exercise godly dominion” over “every aspect and institution of human society,” including the government.

Jerry Falwell Sr. outlined the goal in his 1979 book “America Can Be Saved!” He said he hoped to see the day when there wouldn’t be “any public schools — the churches will have taken them over and Christians will be running them.”

Vouchers are part of the program. According to an educational scholar, they originally came into fashion among Southern conservatives seeking to support segregation in schools. But activists soon grasped that vouchers could be useful in a general assault on public education. As Joseph Bast, president of the Heartland Institute, which receives support from a DeVos-funded donor group, explained: “Complete privatization of schooling might be desirable, but this objective is politically impossible for the time being. Vouchers are a type of reform that is possible now.”

The DeVoses well understand that, stripped of specious language about reform and choice, such a plan for public education would be deeply unpopular. In 2002, Mr. DeVos Jr. advised a Heritage Foundation audience that “we need to be cautious about talking too much about these activities.”

The public school system faces the most immediate threat, but it is not the only institution at risk. The Christian right has already won a number of key roles in the Trump administration.

The head of the presidential transition, Vice President-elect Mike Pence, is an avid voucher proponent. As governor of Indiana, he expanded a voucher program that now funnels $135 million a year to private schools, almost all of them religious. Mr. Trump’s nominee for attorney general, Jeff Sessions, favors religious tests for new immigrants and objects to chief justices with “secular mind-sets.” The nominee for secretary of health and human services, Tom Price, is a member of a physicians’ organization aligned with conservative Christian positions on abortion and other issues.

Mr. Trump’s senior strategist, Stephen K. Bannon, may not appear to be a religious warrior, but he shares the vision of a threatened Christendom.

“I believe the world, and particularly the Judeo-Christian West, is in a crisis,” he said at a conference in 2014. This was “a crisis both of our church, a crisis of our faith, a crisis of the West, a crisis of capitalism.”

What is distinctive about the Christian right’s response to this perceived crisis is its apocalyptic conviction that extreme measures are needed. There is nothing conservative about this agenda; it is radical. Gutting public education will be just the beginning.

Correction: December 15, 2016

An Op-Ed article on Tuesday about Betsy DeVos, Donald Trump’s selection for secretary of education, misstated a detail of the history of the school-voucher program in Indiana. The program began under Gov. Mitch Daniels, not under his successor, Mike Pence.

Katherine Stewart is the author of “The Good News Club: The Christian Right’s Stealth Assault on America’s Children.”


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