By Kelly Ross
As the cold weather trickles in, so does a welcome winter break for teachers across the nation who have been on the defense ever since President-elect Donald Trump nominated billionaire heiress Betsy DeVos as his education secretary in November. DeVos, a far right wing conservative, former Republican National Committeewoman and former Chair of the Michigan Republican Party, is expected to be one of the most radical anti-public school picks to head the Department of Education since its establishment in 1867.
In a statement, the American Federation of Teachers’ President Randi Weingarten said that “In nominating DeVos, Trump makes it loud and clear that his education policy will focus on privatizing, defunding and destroying public education in America.” AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka also called out this “outspoken enemy of public education” in his recent blog entry, “Why Trump’s Cabinet Picks Should Worry You.”
DeVos’s decades-long crusade against public education in the state of Michigan is well documented. She has worked tirelessly to divert dollars away from public schools and into the hands of religious institutions and charter schools in the state with little government oversight. So much so that in 2016 Mrs. DeVos and her husband were the largest financial sponsors of Michigan state legislation opposing any new oversight of charter schools.
As a result of DeVos gutting public schools in the state, since 2009, student test scores in Detroit rank the lowest amongst comparable big cities in the nation. Furthermore, students across Michigan have fallen below the national average.
DeVos isn’t just anti- public education, she is anti-union. Since 2007, she has aggressively backed anti-union right to work laws otherwise known as “right-to-work for less” laws. Because of her financial backing, right to work legislation was signed into law in Michigan in 2012, issuing a crushing blow to the labor movement in the heavily union state. Because right to work legislation is now in place, teachers in Michigan can no longer strike unless they do so by using their sick days, making it difficult for them to advocate for the betterment of the education system and their students.
Earlier this year, teachers in Detroit used their sick days to strike against growing class sizes, rodents and mold in their classrooms and pay cuts. DeVos responded by penning an op-ed for the Detroit News in which she condemned the teachers and argued against allowing teachers to use their sick days to strike.
It is clear that DeVos is neither looking out for the best interests of students, educators, or unions but instead stands behind the agenda to corporatize education and put dollars into the pockets of the wealthy by any means necessary. With DeVos as education secretary, we can surely expect a campaign to de-professionalize the industry and deteriorate the power of teachers’ unions.
However, no matter what DeVos does, we can also expect a stand in solidarity against sub-par education. Teachers’ unions across the country will continue to fight for the rights of workers and quality education of students.
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