Trump Picks Billionaire Betsy DeVos for Education Secretary

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by Mark Urycki

School officials in Ohio are wondering how President-elect Donald Trump’s pick for Secretary of Education will affect schools here.   He wants school choice advocate Betsy DeVos in charge.  

Betsy DeVos has some history in Ohio.  10 years ago her All Children Matter PAC illegally-funneled campaign money for school choice in Ohio and was fined $5.2 million dollars by the state Elections Commission.  

That alone is a problem for Stephen Dyer who works on education policy for the liberal think-tank Innovation Ohio. 

He also worries that DeVos might steer federal education funding toward vouchers and away from the earmarked funds for poor students who get it now.

“What the federal government has the opportunity to do is equalize a lot of the inequities that are inherent in local and state funding for education,” says Dyer.  “So you can be reasonably assured that Title I opportunities are available in all Title I buildings across the country.”

Less than 10% of Ohio education money comes from Washington, D.C., but Dyer says too much federal funding has been wasted on Ohio charters that failed. He hopes DeVos will not steer more federal money to bad charter schools.   

“And that she’ll invest and try to grow the quality sector rather than just grow charters in the name of choice when in many cases the choices are clearly not as good for kids and parents as the traditional public schools,” adds Dyer 

A big shift away from funding public schools is unlikely says Mike Petrilli.  The president of the Thomas B Fordham Institute, a charter school sponsor, notes that education funding is largely spelled out by Congress.

“You know, Republicans may like school choice, but they’re not suicidal.  They are going to hear from their own constituents and their own superintendents and local school boards about that,” says Petrilli.

Ohio has struggled to crack down on poorly performing charter schools. That even caused a pause in some federal funds being awarded to the state.  Petrilli says DeVos may not push for reform either.

“She was involved in a debate in Michigan involving charter school quality where it certainly appears she was against some of the measures that would have brought greater accountability to the charter schools there.”

So should public school officials in Ohio be worried?

“Yes, they should be worried, but they shouldn’t panic quite yet,” says Petrilli.  “In our system, the President proposes and the Congress disposes.”  

Betsy DeVos is underwriting a study by the Fordham Institute on ways to engage teenagers in high school.  She attended private Christian schools herself in Michigan.

Note: an earlier version of this story mischaracterized the illegal transfer of funds by the All Children Matter PAC.


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