Today’s post is an update—some new tidbits and clarifications about the record of Betsy DeVos, President-elect Donald Trump’s nominee for U.S. Secretary of Education.
Jennifer Berkshire on Betsy DeVos
I encourage you to read Jennifer Berkshire’s fascinating commentary on Betsy DeVos’s role in the mess created by an out-of-control charter sector in Detroit. Berkshire explains how DeVos’ influence and money undermined a bipartisan effort to save the Detroit Public Schools: “It was out of… (a) spirit of hopefulness that the Coalition for the Future of Detroit’s Schoolchildren emerged back in 2014. And it was a for real coalition. AFT was there, but so was the (corporate) reform-minded Excellent Schools Detroit and the city’s pro-charter mayor, along with members of the corporate and civic elite. People who’d been, if not at war, at deep odds, had finally gotten together around a single, shared point of agreement: if Detroit doesn’t have some way to oversee its schools—both what remains of the district schools and the fast-growing, completely unregulated charter sector—the city can forget about the future. Bankrolled by a local philanthropy, the Skillman Foundation, the coalition had the wind at its back and the political wherewithal necessary to get a bill through the state senate, even gaining the support of Governor Rick Snyder…. But the feel-good story screeched to a halt last summer thanks to a wall of GOP opposition. Except that “wall” and “opposition’ make it sound as though there were a whole bunch of people involved in the kneecaping that went down. There was a single family: Betsy and Dick DeVos. The bill that ultimately passed, with the DeVos’ blessing and with the aid of the lawmakers they bankroll, did virtually nothing to regulate Detroit’s ‘wild west’ charter school sector, and will likely hasten the demise of the Detroit Public Schools.”
DeVos PAC Still owes Ohio $5.3 Million Fine
The Columbus Dispatch and Politico have now clarified the role of All Children Matter, a PAC that favored school privatization and that was founded in 2003 by Dick and Betsy DeVos and formerly directed by Betsy DeVos—in a huge fine still owed to the Ohio Elections Commission after a 2006 violation. Here is Randy Ludlow for The Dispatch: “The Ohio Elections Commission unanimously ruled that All Children Matter violated state law by illegally channeling $870,000 in contributions from its Virginia PAC to its then-unregistered Ohio PAC, violating a state law that restricts political action committees to accepting no more than $10,000 from a single source… David Brennan of Akron, one of Ohio’s top charter-school operators and a top state GOP donor, gave $200,000 to the Virginia PAC before it funneled money to All Children Matter’s Ohio PAC. Virginia imposed no limit on contributions to PACs.”
Politico describes what happened: “The state (elections) commission told POLITICO that DeVos’ group initially asked Ohio if this sort of spending was permissible. When the state said no, DeVos’ group did it anyway. ‘I’ve been with the commission since 1996 and I’ve never had anyone else ask for an adivisory opinion and then proceed to not do what the opinion said,’ said Philip Richter, executive director and staff attorney at the Ohio Elections Commission.”
All Children Matter lost when it appealed the decision. Finally Ohio’s attorney general, “went to court in 2012 in a bid to collect the fine, receiving a $5.2 million judgment in 2013 from Franklin County Common Pleas Court Judge Daniel T. Hogan.” Hogan also fined All Children Matter’s Virginia PAC $25 a day, retroactive to October 26, 2006. The Dispatch and Politico agree that All Children Matter seems to be fading away and has inadequate assets to pay the fine. At the end of 2015, the organization had only $275 in assets. Betsy DeVos was never held personally liable.
Campbell Brown Says Her News Website Will Provide Objective Coverage of Her Good Friend, Betsy DeVos
Caitlin Emma reports for Politico Morning Education that Campbell Brown, the anti-teachers union crusader, will recuse herself from covering her friend Betsy DeVos on The 74, Brown’s website that pretends to be an objective news-reporting site on topics relating to education.
Emma explains: “Brown and DeVos are friends, and Brown sits on the board of DeVos’ school choice advocacy group, the American Federation for Children. (DeVos resigned as chair [of the American Federation of Children] last week after accepting Trump’s Cabinet offer.) In 2014, the Dick & Betsy DeVos Family Foundation helped launch The 74 with a two-year grant—the amount of which wasn’t disclosed to Morning Education.”
Since President-elect Trump’s nomination of DeVos, The 74‘s coverage of Betsy DeVos has been largely positive. Despite a more complex piece by Michael Petrilli, The 74‘s has printed a laudatory 2015 interview with DeVos and Campbell Brown’s own gushing commentary: “Social media attacks aren’t famous for accuracy, but it’s a pity that Betsy DeVos has been so misleadingly caricatured since Donald Trump asked her to serve as secretary of education last week… The suggestion that Betsy’s work with children is ideologically or financially driven would be disputed, I’d guess, by just about everyone who has spent time alongside her during the past 30 years as she founded, helped run and advised education groups and initiatives that have helped improve education across the country — including thousands of teachers and poor families.” You’ll notice that the sole purpose of DeVos’s education work—privatization— is unmentioned in Brown’s effusive tribute to her friend.
Writing for Education Week, Mark Walsh comments: “The 74, the website founded by former TV journalist Campbell Brown, is in an awkward position when it comes to the site’s identity. Is it an independent education news and opinion site, as Brown, herself a supporter of school choice and teacher tenure reform, has maintained, or is it an electronic pamphleteer for DeVos and her causes?” Walsh acknowledges that articles about DeVos posted at The 74 have contained disclaimers explaining DeVos’s financial connections and the fact that Campbell Brown serves on the board of the American Federation for Children, but despite the disclaimers, worries remain.
Yesterday Romy Drucker, CEO of The 74, tried to clarify further in a formal statement posted on The 74 website: “Two years ago, in 2014, the Dick & Betsy DeVos Family Foundation approved a two-year general operating support grant for The 74. The final disbursement of those funds, in the first quarter of 2016, means that the foundation is an active donor only through the end of this year. Obviously, given Ms. DeVos’s potential role in the federal government, The 74 will not be seeking additional funding for 2017 or beyond. In addition to The 74 having received support from the Dick & Betsy DeVos Foundation, my co-founder and the site’s editor-in-chief, Campbell Brown, sits on the board of the American Federation for Children, which Betsy DeVos previously chaired… Still, given Ms. Brown’s close ties to Ms. DeVos, she is recusing herself from editorial involvement in the coverage of Ms. DeVos and her upcoming confirmation hearing.”
This is, of course, a case of DeVos philanthropy not only underwriting the pro-privatization American Federation for Children and the Great Lakes Education Project, which has lobbied for unregulated expansion of charter schools, but also granting the seed money for Campbell Brown to launch a news outlet that in subtle and obvious ways favors the very same education ideas that Betsy DeVos’s organizations promote—even while the news site pretends to be objective.