On Wednesday President-elect Donald Trump announced that he had picked billionaire Republican fundraiser and "extremist" school privatization activist Betsy DeVos as his secretary of education.
"In nominating DeVos, Trump makes it loud and clear that his education policy will focus on privatizing, defunding, and destroying public education in America," said Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, in a statement. Weingarten also called Devos "the most ideological, anti-public education nominee" in the history of the cabinet level post.
DeVos, head of the American Federation for Children – which education writer Peter Greene described as "a dark money group that works for school privatization" – is a major Republican party donor and former head of the Michigan Republican Party. During the presidential campaign DeVos and her husband Dick DeVos, who is heir to the multi-billion dollar Amway fortune, donated millions in "soft money" to various Republican campaigns, something DeVos has publicly bragged about.
"I know a little something about soft money, as my family is the largest single contributor of soft money to the Republican Party. I have decided, however, to stop taking offense at the suggestion that we are buying influence. Now I simply concede the point," wrote DeVos, as reported by Jane Mayer.
Despite never having held public office, DeVos used her influence to become a major player in the destruction of the Detroit Public Education system. The New York Times reported that her efforts in that city to channel public funds to private charter schools through a "voucher" system "produced a public education fiasco that is perhaps unparalleled in the United States."
David Hecker, president of the American Federation of Teachers in Michigan, called DeVos’ appointment "devastating for public education" saying that, "she wants her billionaire friends to profit off of childhood education."
"She has lobbied for failed schemes, like vouchers—which take away funding and local control from our public schools—to fund private schools at taxpayers' expense," said National Education Association President Lily Eskelsen García. "She has consistently pushed a corporate agenda to privatize, de-professionalize, and impose cookie-cutter solutions to public education," continued Garcia.
DeVos also has deep family ties to the Christian Right. The Washington Post reported that her mother, Elsa, and her husband’s parents have supported anti-same-sex marriage efforts as well as attempts to criminalize abortion. Her brother is Erik Prince, Jr., founder of notorious paramilitary company Blackwater, who is accused of war crimes related to the 2007 Nisour Square massacre in Iraq. According to Jeremy Scahill, both the Prince and DeVos families are "platinum-level contributors to far-right Christian causes and political figures" such as James Dobson, head of the Christian supremacist Focus on the Family.
According to Julie Ingersoll, professor of religious studies at the University of North Florida, the choice of DeVos was likely engineered by Christian supremacist Vice President-elect Mike Pence, who as governor of Indiana expanded school vouchers as a means to fund Christian schools. "It’s been a long-standing goal of the Religious Right to replace public education with Christian education," she said. "The long-term strategy of how to change culture is through education."
DeVos’ appointment will need to be approved by the Republican-controlled Congress in January.