Hoosiers might not know the name of the nominee for U.S. Secretary of Education, but they will know her work. The financial clout Betsy DeVos exerted on Indiana school policy helped create the state’s private-school voucher program – a likely template for nationwide expansion.
As DeVos’ nomination goes before the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions today, Hoosiers should be aware of the money the Michigan billionaire has spent to elect candidates who support her school-privatization aims.
The money to Indiana politicians is extensive, both in direct contributions and money flowing through the American Federation for Children, which gave $145,000 to Hoosiers for Quality Education, Indiana’s primary voucher advocacy group, in the last six months alone. The DeVos family and its affiliated political groups have given $2.5 million to Indiana politicians since 2004.
DeVos defended the spending in a 1997 op-ed she wrote for Roll Call:
"(M)y family is the largest single contributor of soft money to the national Republican party …. I have decided, however, to stop taking offense at the suggestion that we are buying influence. Now, I simply concede the point. We expect to foster a conservative governing philosophy consisting of limited government and respect for traditional American virtues. We expect a return on our investment; we expect a good and honest government."
The policy DeVos has pursued with abandon is school choice, and her single-minded approach to education is alarming. The agency she would lead serves about 55 million students, enforces civil rights law in education and ensures equal opportunity for students with disabilities, English language learners and students from poverty. It oversees grants and loans to college students and, under the Obama administration, cracked down on the unscrupulous practices of some for-profit colleges.
Indiana Sen. Todd Young is a member of the panel reviewing DeVos’ nomination. He accepted $290,000 last year from the Senate Leadership Fund, which received $2.225 million from DeVos family contributions. In addition, SLF spent $11.5 million to defeat Democrat Evan Bayh, Young’s opponent. A spokesman said Young will not recuse himself from the vote on the nomination.
If the senator is not bothered by the financial entanglement here, he should be bothered by the fact DeVos has no experience as an educator. Hoosiers should tell both Young and Sen. Joe Donnelly where they stand on her qualifications.