Monday, November 28, 2016

Into the Unknown

From Inside Higher Ed: President-elect Donald Trump's pick of the Michigan school choice activist Betsy DeVos as his education secretary drew praise from many conservatives and criticism from liberal groups and teachers' unions, who said the selection signaled intentions to privatize education. DeVos, who served as chair of the Michigan Republican party from 1996-2000, has a track record of promoting charter schools and school vouchers. It's expected that she will bring a focus on those issues to the federal Department of Education. Less clear is what that vision says about her potential priorities for the higher education sector.

The DeVos family has a history of supporting higher education institutions in Michigan through charitable contributions.
Peter McPherson, president of the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities, served as president of Michigan State University from 1993 to 2004 and is familiar with the DeVos family. He said DeVos has been interested in making sure low-income students have an opportunity for good education and positive outcomes.
"My assumption is that those themes of interest in opportunity and accountability would be a major interest of hers in higher education," McPherson said.
What that will mean specifically for the approach DeVos takes to issues such as accountability and regulation in higher education as well as access to financial aid and the role of for-profit colleges was unclear, McPherson said. But he said DeVos has been dedicated in pursuing the causes she has supported.
"She’s a dynamo," he said. "She’s a real worker. She’s a formidable person."
If confirmed by the Senate, DeVos would not be the first education secretary without a substantial background in higher education. Arne Duncan, before serving in the Obama administration, was the CEO of Chicago Public Schools, and he went on to spend considerable energy on higher education issues. (The Associated Press reported Saturday that Jerry Falwell Jr., the president of Liberty University, said he had been offered the job of education secretary but turned it down.)
DeVos's father-in-law, Richard DeVos, is the founder of multilevel-marketing company Amway and the owner of the Orlando Magic of the National Basketball Association. And the DeVos Foundation has made a number of contributions to conservative think tanks as well as the free-speech group Foundation for Individual Rights in Education.
The DeVos family has a deep history of knowledge and involvement in higher education, McPherson said. Richard DeVos also played a key role in establishing Michigan State University's medical campus in Grand Rapids, Mich. Betsy DeVos and her husband, Dick, have a foundation that has contributed hundreds of thousands of dollars to Michigan colleges and universities, public and private.
But the family is best known for support of the charter school movement and expanded access to school vouchers. Betsy DeVos more recently chaired the American Federation for Children -- a coalition of private school choice organizations that advocates for school choice items, including vouchers. Trump has himself proposed a $20 billion national school voucher program, and his campaign in August added Rob Goad, a policy adviser to Indiana Representative Luke Messer, to craft school choice policies for the campaign.
After a primary campaign that heavily featured a debate about the costs of college, Democrats under Hillary Clinton were expected to prioritize higher education. After Trump's surprising win in the presidential election, the DeVos announcement signals the spotlight will shift to issues long favored by Republicans, such as school choice...

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