DeVos Wants to Privatize Schools to Make Investors Rich, Not Give Poor Kids A Better Education

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Donald Trump and Betsy DeVos

If you wondered why Betsy DeVos, Donald Trump’s choice for secretary of education, decided to oversee the nation’s education system, even though she has never worked at a public school or served on a school board, it’s not because she wants to give poor kids a better education. (By the way, her kids went to private school.)

That’s the sales pitch, but the school privatization movement isn’t really about getting kids a better education, it’s about money. In DeVos’ case it may be about money and power. DeVos already comes from a wealthy politically-connected family, but like President-elect Donald Trump, it seems that wealthy people can never have enough money. Billionaire television mogul Oprah once admitted that when you get to a certain stage, it gets to be a competition to see who can amass the most.

DeVos and Trump are following a familiar Republican pattern. Brand a government agency inefficient, then appoint a hatchet man (or woman) whose main job is to turn the department over to the private sector. Because of course the private sector is more efficient than a slow-moving, bureaucratic government operation. Well, not exactly.

The private school movement has been gaining steam in recent years. There was even a slick documentary about this called “Waiting for Superman,” which railed against the problems of public schools.

Unfortunately, public schools do have issues, unequal funding, under-performing students, entrenched teachers and waste. And because teachers’ unions have largely fought against any form of accountability system ranking their performance, this has left them open for criticism.

One of the biggest arguments for private schools is they are more efficient, but if you study the data this turns out not to be true. According to an extensive report on Pennsylvania charter schools (publicly-funded independent schools,) by State Rep. Joe Robuck, only one out of six of them were classified as “high-performing.” Roebuck’s report also found charter schools scored lower on the School Performance Profile than public schools. A Washington Post story also outlines several other problems with charter schools such as frequent incidents of corruption and lack of oversight.

On Democracy Now!, Diane Ratich, who worked in the department of education under President George H.W. Bush, said charter schools look more efficient because they get to pick the best students.

“Well, they do enable choice, but they’re not necessarily better schools,” said Ratich.

So why is there a drive to move to charter schools? It seems to be one of those decisions that is based more on opinion than fact. But the real driving factor isn’t getting kids a better education, its about money. Investors are eyeing the more than $100 billion the government spends annually on education and are looking at how they can get a piece of the pie.

I have seen this Republican business plan operated before. They declare government doesn’t work, then appoint someone who is going to privatize government services. Of course the company that gets the million-dollar contract has made a donation to the politician who implemented the privatization plan, so the contract is essentially payback for a legal bribe.

This is what Florida Gov. Rick Scott did when he passed a law that mandated drug testing for welfare recipients and state workers. Solantic, the company that got the contract, was owned by his wife. The project turned out to be a complete waste of money because it revealed that welfare recipients had lower drug use rates than the general public. The state also ended up having to shell out $1.5 million in legal fees after incensed state workers filed suit with the ACLU.

Ultimately DeVos has the same goal as Scott. She wants to privatize education because so she can give contracts to her cronies. Interestingly enough, DeVos’ brother is Erik Prince, founder of the notorious mercenary company, Blackwater. (The company has gone through multiple name changes over the years to try to shake off bad publicity.)

Prince sold the government on the idea that Blackwater could do certain U.S. military jobs more efficiently. But talk to most soldiers who served in Iraq and they’ll tell you that Blackwater operatives were known for shooting first and asking questions later. And they often didn’t care who they were shooting at. Four Blackwater contractors were convicted of killing 17 Iraqis citizens. Blackwater, which is now known as Academi, still has a $1 billion contract with the State Department to provide protective services.

The Blackwater model should serve as a cautionary tale of what happens when certain government services are privatized. Another example of the disaster of privatization is seen in corrections. When private corporations run prisons, the inmates and the prison guards usually get worse treatment. Since there is a profit motive, the only way to put the company in the red is by eliminating all the fat, like union jobs, benefits and educational and rehabilitation services for the inmates.

I’m pretty sure DeVos is going to end up behaving much like her brother. She doesn’t want to become secretary of education to give poor kids better schools, she wants to line the pockets or her friends with government money. Republicans might say they hate the government, but they love those government checks.

Originally published at on September 21, 2018.

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Manny Otiko writes about race, politics and sports. He has been published in Salon and LA Weekly. Follow him on Twitter @mannyotiko.

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