Here’s a quick pop quiz for the class: Who spent the entirety of their four years in the Trump administration endangering the civil rights of trans children and making it incredibly hard for college students to report sexual assault and harassment at school? If you guessed Betsy DeVos, congrats! You’ve won yourself a future of never having to pay attention to her again, because it’s time to say goodbye to DeVos’s horrific reign as Education Secretary. And while in the wake of the MAGA attacks on the Capitol, DeVos recently stepped down from her position, in a clear bid to telegraph that she has some sort of delayed conscience, make no mistake: this wicked witch of education has caused a lifetime’s worth of damage to American students and a conveniently timed resignation can not and will not erode that.
By the time she wiggled her way into Trump’s cabinet in 2016, Devos had already blazed a trail of destruction in Michigan’s school system by promoting her pro “school choice” stance, a system that prioritizes privately-managed charter schools over struggling public schools. A former chairwoman of the school choice advocacy group American Federation for Children, she was a defining force and donor behind the growth of charter schools in Michigan. The result of her meddling was that the influx of charter schools in the state drained enrollment and resources from public schools in districts that needed it them most, like Detroit. Her billionaire family even started their own PAC to lobby for charter schools, the Great Lakes Education Project, to which the DeVos’s family has given more than $2 million to since 2001 the Detroit Free Press reported in 2016.
Her egregious conflicts of interest as a school choice lobbyist were enough to give even the Republican party pause when Trump first chose her for the role, a nomination that also earned cries from teachers unions that she was vehemently anti-public education. But the outcry was not enough to keep her from the job.
Of course Trump would pick someone for Secretary of Education who was determined to funnel resources away from public school students who need it the most, dangerously rerouting federal assistance to glorify her vision of private education. In office, Devos’s disdain for American public schools and the students they serve was apparent, as she defended the concept of moving funds out of a poorly performing public school and into the hands of a well-performing private school on 60 Minutes. “I hesitate to talk about all schools in general because schools are made up of individual students attending them,” she said.
During her tenure she made bizarre and glib comments that reinforced how little she cares about public education in this country, from suggesting guns belong in schools to protect students from grizzly bears, and comparing school choice to a woman’s right to choose to have an abortion and the creation of HBCUs. She proposed cutting funding for the Special Olympics, an idea so horrific that even Trump knew to reverse course. And she once casually suggested that it should be up to states to enforce the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, a federal law that ensures children with disabilities the right to attend public school, in essence suggesting that schools receiving taxpayer money should be allowed to ignore it. Later, her department would rescind dozens of documents concerning the rights of students with disabilities.
Having only ever gone to private school and only sent her kids to private school, Devos demonstrated not only how little she knows about the American school system and its needs, but how little she knows about, well, anything? Except building mansions of course, god will you just look at this thing?!
But it was DeVos’s treatment of trans kids and college sexual assault survivors that will undoubtedly land her a special place in hell. In 2017 the Trump administration rolled back the Obama-era bathroom guidelines that rightfully allowed transgender students to use whatever bathroom corresponds to their gender, a guideline that made that it clear any other rule was a violation of anti-discrimination laws. And while there were initial reports that DeVos initially “feared” rolling back the guidelines because of what it would mean for trans students, as the years went by DeVos’s commitment to blocking much needed protections for trans people only became starker. She refused to even investigate complaints filed by students who had been banned from bathrooms, failing to even pretend to protect the civil rights of trans students. DeVos also threatened to withhold government funding from Connecticut schools if they let transgender athletes choose which teams they want to compete on, and similarly accused colleges and universities that have trans-inclusive policies for athletes as having violated Title IX.
Speaking of Title IX, a law intended to protect students from sex-based discrimination in schools, DeVos also fucked with that. In 2020 her Department of Education announced weak new regulations for Title IX which let schools off the hook for sexual harassment claims that did not happen through a school program or activity, leaving students with no official channels to report sexual harassment if it happened off-campus. DeVos emphasized the new regulations were more fair than Obama-era rules, which really just meant that the accused were given the benefit of the doubt and required colleges to host potentially traumatizing live hearings where both the accused and the accuser would be cross-examined. Would you be at all surprised to know that men’s rights groups actually loved these new regulations, meeting not just with DeVos’s Department of Education but also heavily participating in the drafting of Title IX changes?
There is no punishment that could befall DeVos that feels apt considering what she’s enacted the past four years. But looking back on her decades of fanatical lobbying to essentially privatize public education, somehow I think she’d squirm the most by simply having to attend a public school, year after year, for eternity. Imagine that: no prayer in class, no fancy school lunches, no helicopter parents paying for your every desire. The horror!