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    Why Betsy DeVos Is in the News, and Why You Need to Know Her Name

    Chances are you’ve heard and read Betsy DeVos’ name a lot lately. Maybe you know exactly why, maybe you vaguely know that she was appointed by President Trump, maybe you know that she’s the Education Secretary, maybe you know she’s somehow upset people. But maybe you’re not sure how all of that fits together, and it’s gotten a little too late to ask. Well, read on and hopefully, all your Betsy DeVos questions will be answered.

    Q1: Who is Betsy DeVos?

    A1: Betsy DeVos is indeed the Education Secretary. She is also a Republican, a billionaire, a philanthropist, a political donor, and is all about using taxpayer money to expand charter schools and voucher programs. She is from an extremely wealthy Michigan family and is the former chairwoman of the Michigan GOP. She is married to Dick DeVos, who was a CEO of Amway, and her brother Erik Prince founded the highly-controversial private security company Blackwater.

    Q2: Why is she so controversial?

    A2: Betsy DeVos almost didn’t get the votes needed to become Education Secretary. In fact, when it was time for her confirmation, the vote in the Senate was 50-50; Vice President Mike Pence had to break the tie. The origin of her controversy really stems from DeVos’ history of not supporting public schools. A longtime supporter of charter schools, the American Civil Liberties Union said that Devos’ work in Michigan is responsible for, “elevating for-profit schools with no consideration of the severe harm done to traditional public schools” in the process. With extremely conservative beliefs, DeVos has also said that growing the number of charter schools would be a good way to “advance God’s kingdom.” Those in the education community have long seen here as a supporter of the controversial “school choice,” which uses public funds to help parents pay private and religious school tuition at institutions that are poorly regulated. Add to that the fact that she has no experience with public schools—and seemingly doesn’t believe in them—and it’s clear why she’s so controversial.

    Q3: Why is she suddenly in the news now?

    A3: She’s in the news now because just last week she announced that she would be changing the approach to policing campus sexual assault that was put into effect by President Obama. Her changes do more to protect the accused, and far less to protect the victims. “Through intimidation and coercion, the failed system has clearly pushed schools to overreach. With the heavy hand of Washington tipping the balance of the scale, the sad reality is that Lady Justice is not blind on campuses today,” she said in a speech announcing her proposed changes. While, of course, DeVos does have supporters—many of whom agree the accused were being treated unfairly—her detractors say her plan would undo all the good progress made toward curtailing the rampant problem of campus sexual assault. In a statement, the National Women’s Law Center said DeVos’ plan was “a blunt attack on survivors of sexual assault,” adding, “it will discourage schools from taking steps to comply with the law — just at the moment when they are finally working to get it right. And it sends a frightening message to all students: Your government does not have your back if your rights are violated.” While the rules have yet to be rewritten, the seeming promise that they will be (and soon) has people very upset.

    Q4: So what has she done since becoming Education Secretary?

    A4: While the sexual assault rules are still pending, DeVos has brought forward many changes already. Most notably are the changes she’s made to the student financial aid system, where she has moved away from protecting student borrowers: she reinstated collection fees for students who had defaulted on loans and tapped a chief executive of a private student-loan company to run the government’s financial aid. She also adopted a bipartisan initiative to give students year-round access to Pell grants.

    Q5: Should I be worried?

    A5: Probably. DeVos is moving us away from public schooling and undoing a lot of the good progress that has been made toward protecting campus sexual assault survivors. Her moves, though often quiet, are important to watch.


    Elena Sheppard is a writer who lives where all the other writers live: in Brooklyn. You can follow her on Twitter, Instagram, and sign up for her weekly newsletter.

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