Don’t be fooled by the headline. Betsy DeVos is unquestionably one of the most reprehensible appointments ever made to a presidential cabinet. A multi-millionaire who’s donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to GOP politicians, is a staunch believer in privatizing public education and believes in some kind of bizarre Pavlovian method of braintraining called Neurocore which, if I’m understanding it correctly, basically consists of interrupting kids with A.D.H.D. and autism in order to retrain their brains to focus. I don’t know about you, dear reader, but I know constantly being interrupted almost always makes me more focused, amirite? No? OK.
So while I’ll stop short of defending DeVos, I do find her to be slightly less awful than other Trump appointees. Say what you want about the woman’s ideas, qualifications or lack of either, but the fact of the matter is that she alone can’t do all that much damage. Yes, she’ll ostensibly be in charge of a $68 billion budget and thousands of employees, and while she may try to allocate some of that money to charter programs and Jesusy-type stuff, there are conflicting reports on whether she’ll be a champion for LGBTQ students (many of her friends in the gay community say she will be an advocate according to a recent New York Times article, but it seems much more likely she’ll tow the Trump/Pence party line).
DeVos can do any number of things with her new job and Trump can sign as many education-based executive orders as he wants. But the real power would still rest with the federal legislature and, more importantly, in the local and statewide school systems. Any federal education reforms would still need to be passed in Congress in order for it to be real. What’s more, local K-12 schools get less than 10 percent of their budgets from the feds.
If there is any silver lining, the fact that there is an Education Secretary who believes that most education decisions “are best left to the states” could be a good thing. Sure, that’s a double-edged sword in that schools in Wyoming might decide they need more Grizzly bear guns, or Alabama schools might decide they need more Creationism-based science books, but, really, those decisions are made on a local level and the federal government has little to no power in deciding those decisions outside of banning them altogether. And we all know what happens when you try to take away people’s Gods and guns.
Make no mistake, DeVos was an easy target. She’s a bumbling education lobbyist who (dare I say it) also happened to be a woman. When I look at the head-swellingly awful list of Trump appointments, DeVos barely registers on the unacceptable barometer (I’ll save that kind of rage for people like Jeff Sessions and EPA-nominee Scott Pruitt). What progressives need to remember is that when it comes to education, the old mantra of “think globally, act locally” should be applied. While most liberals spent the week screaming about DeVos on social media, there were some things happening in our own backyard that we should really be upset about. For example, the San Diego Unified School District will face a nearly $125 million dollar budget cut and will have to layoff teachers and staff, according to a piece in Voice of San Diego. What’s more, a program from San Diego Unified allowing Lincoln High School students to take college courses has failed the students epically.
These are the types of local issues we should really be worried about. Keep DeVos in your periphery, but she should not be our main focus.