By Robert Reich
Trump education secretary Betsy DeVos is heading the administration’s effort to force schools to reopen in the fall for in-person instruction. What’s her plan to reopen safely? She doesn’t have one.
Rather than seeking additional federal funds, she’s using this pandemic to further her ploy to privatize education — threatening to withhold federal funds from public schools that don’t reopen.
Repeatedly pressed by journalists during TV appearances, DeVos can’t come up with a single mechanism or guideline for reopening schools safely. She can’t even articulate what authority the federal government has to unilaterally withhold funds from school districts — a decision that’s made at the state and local level, or by Congress. But when has the Constitution stopped the Trump administration from trying to do whatever it wants?
DeVos is following Trump’s lead — prematurely reopening the economy, which he sees as key to his re-election but is causing a resurgence of the virus.
Let’s get something straight: Every single parent, teacher, and student wants to be able to return to in-person instruction in the fall — but only if no one’s life is put at risk.
Districts need more funding, not less, to implement the CDC’s guidelines. Given that state and local governments are already cash-strapped, it’s estimated that K-12 schools need at least $245 billion in additional funding to put safety precautions in place — funding that Republicans in Congress and the Trump administration refuse to give.
One might think an education secretary would be studying what kind of safety precautions would work best, and seeking emergency funding for those safeguards. Not DeVos. Just like her boss in the Oval Office, she’s been hard at work shafting working families to advance her personal agenda.
In late April, she issued rules for how states should use the $13 billion allocated in the CARES Act for schools. Her rules would divert millions of dollars away from low-income schools into the coffers of wealthy private schools. It’s such a blatant violation of federal law that several states are suing her and her department.
DeVos’ entire tenure has centered on shafting low-income students and their families — the very people she’s supposed to protect.
She has repeatedly empowered the predatory for-profit college industry at the expense of the students they prey upon. Why? She has considerable financial stakes that are rife with conflicts of interest. Her financial investments are a web of holdings in for-profit colleges and student loan collectors.
When DeVos took office, she repealed an Obama-era rule imposing stricter regulations and higher standards on for-profit colleges. She also stopped canceling the debts of students defrauded by these institutions — a move that has prompted 23 states to bring a lawsuit against her. In the process, she was even held in contempt of court for violating a federal court order.
Now, in the middle of the worst public health crisis in more than a century, she’s jeopardizing the safety of our students, teachers, parents, bus drivers, and custodians, while rerouting desperately needed public school funds towards the private schools she’s always championed.
Remember, when you vote against Trump this November — you’re voting against her, too. It’s a win-win.