This year National School Choice Week launches as the country grapples with the nomination of Betsy DeVos for Secretary of Education.
DeVos has quickly become one of Donald Trump’s most controversial nominees. At her confirmation hearing she showed not only a lack of knowledge on matters related to education policy, she failed to reassure Senators that she would uphold existing federal legislation such as The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and Title IX.
Senators voiced concerns related to DeVos’s vast wealth, including potential conflicts of interest due to numerous business investments and the massive donations she and her family have made to the Republican Party.
Members of the committee also highlighted the fact that DeVos has absolutely no experience related to K-12 public education, no experience with higher education and that she has spent the last several decades advocating for school choice.
DeVos Money and National School Choice Week
It comes as little surprise that the numerous organizations behind National School Choice Week are led by and/or funded by DeVos.
The official website for National School Choice Week features a list of partners – the first is the American Federation for Children (AFC). AFC’s website confirms that it is “led by national education reform pioneer Betsy DeVos.”
According to a Media Matters report, AFC is “a school choice advocacy organization affiliated with the nonprofit Alliance for School Choice and the AFC Growth Fund.”
The Washington Post confirms that AFC, the AFC Growth Fund and the Alliance for School Choice share “staff, facilities, and other resources.” In essence, they are 3 branches of the same organization, led by DeVos.
DeVos and her family are large contributors to the Alliance for School Choice. According to a database maintained by Conservative Transparency. The Richard and Helen DeVos Foundation, which is the foundation run by her inlaws, contributed $300,000 to the Alliance for School Choice/AFC between 2005 and 2008. The Dick and Betsy DeVos Foundation contributed another $500,000 between 2005 and 2013.
Other Prominent National School Choice Week Partners:
There are two featured National School Choice Week partners that received money both from the Dick and Betsy DeVos Foundation and DeVos’s Alliance for School Choice.
Black Alliance for Educational Outcomes
Hispanic Council for Reform and Educational Options (HCREO)
Another four National School Choice Week partners were the beneficiaries of contributions from the Dick and Betsy DeVos Foundation.
The Foundation for Excellence in Education received $260,000 from 2009 to 2013.
The Children’s Scholarship Fund received $61,000 from 2003 to 2012.
The Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice received $12,500 – 1999 to 2001.
The Institute for Justice received $80,000 from 2004 to 2013.
Democrats for Education Reform, another National School Choice Week partner, didn’t receive money directly from DeVos’s foundation, but did receive $107,500 from the Alliance for School Choice between 2013 and 2014.
There are numerous other partners that may not have received money directly from DeVos, but are listed on the American Federation for Children’s website as “National Allied Organizations.”
The Thomas B. Fordham Institute
National School Choice Week
National Alliance for Public Charter Schools
Center for Education Reform
And while it may not be a surprise to learn that many of the organizations working together to create National School Choice Week are funded by and/or allied with Betsy DeVos, its important to continue to document the depth of her involvement with and her connection to the school choice movement.
Perhaps most alarming is DeVos’ continued connections to The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). ALEC, known as a corporate bill mill that pushes corporate friendly model bills though state legislatures, is listed as a National School Choice Week partner under “Policy” (go to the “Partner Type” dropdown, choose “Partner” and then click search). ALEC is also listed as a “National Allied Organization” on the American Federation of Children’s website.
ALEC’s lobbying activities have faced continued public scrutiny, which has led at least 110 corporations and 19 non-profits to cut ties with the organization – but not Betsy DeVos, and not the American Federation for Children.
On January 22, 2017 Inez Feltscher, the director of ALEC’s Education and Workforce Development Task Force, penned an oped for the Washington Examiner on National School Choice Week and DeVos’s nomination. In the oped she parrots the tried and true reform talking point about lagging American achievement despite continued investment, and takes a few swipes at the teachers unions.
And on January 10, 2017 Feltscher wrote a post on ALEC’s website titled, DeVos Should Stand Proud of Record Championing Choice in Education, in which she not only praises DeVos but excoriates the “defenders of the status quo.”
It is clear that Betsy DeVos is not only a believer in school choice, but that she, and those who support her, have disdain for the public education system that is responsible for educating 85% of our nation’s students. She is uniquely unqualified to run the country’s public education system, and confirming her as Secretary of Education would be a disservice to teachers, students and parents everywhere.
The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee is set to vote on her nomination on January 31st. Make sure your voice is heard. Call the HELP Committee, and call your Senator. Tell them to vote no for Betsy DeVos.