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Jones: DeVos could destroy public education for children of color

MAKE NO MISTAKE. The confirmation of Betsy DeVos as secretary of Education on Tuesday is a direct attack on America's children of color.

MAKE NO MISTAKE. The confirmation of Betsy DeVos as secretary of Education on Tuesday is a direct attack on America's children of color.

That's because black and brown children now constitute the majority of students in America's public schools. And according to the National Center for Education Statistics, the percent of whites is expected to continue decreasing, the proportion of blacks will remain steady, and the number of Hispanics will trend upward, reaching 29 percent by 2025.

President Trump can't build a wall to keep those students out. But with the confirmation of a patently unqualified Secretary of Education, he can do something infinitely worse. He can ruin those children's chances of competing with their white counterparts.

If that is Trump's intent, there is no better person for the job than Betsy DeVos.

A billionaire who supports giving public money to private educational entities, DeVos says she comes from a family that has given approximately $200 million to Republican candidates and causes over the years.

That influence-buying strategy has paid off big for DeVos. For an investment of just $200 million, she now has executive authority over an education system that spent $620 billion for public elementary and secondary schools in 2012-13.

Given that she has no experience as an educator, the only record we can look to for an indication of what she might do with that money involves what she did in Michigan. That's where DeVos and her husband led a years-long effort to open more charter schools by supporting the political campaigns of so-called "school choice" candidates.

Most of the charter schools that resulted from DeVos' push didn't open in richer, whiter communities. The vast majority opened in poor places like Detroit, where almost all of the students were black and brown. Most of the charter schools were run by for-profit companies, and on average, those schools scored worse on fourth- and eighth-grade reading and math assessments than their traditional public-school counterparts.

The failure of those charter schools was helped along by lack of regulation, a principle DeVos also pushed while buying up political influence in Michigan. But not only did the charter schools fail. The money the charters siphoned away weakened the finances and enrollment of traditional public schools.

So, in essence, DeVos' actions not only created failing charter schools in poor communities of color. Her actions also helped to destroy traditional public schools for black and brown children in Detroit.

By helping to make Michigan tax dollars available to loosely regulated and ineffective schools run by for-profit companies more interested in making a buck than educating children, DeVos, in the eyes of many Detroiters, decimated public education in their city.

To be fair, DeVos later pushed for more regulation of the charter monster she helped to create in Michigan. But she also pushed for vouchers – a mechanism by which public money is given to families to help pay to send their children to private schools.

That's DeVos' record on education, and no one knows it better than the students of Detroit.

Several days ago, I spoke with one of those students. Her name is Dannah Wilson. The 17-year-old traveled to Washington with a group of students, parents and teachers from Detroit. Having witnessed the educational carnage DeVos left behind in her city, Dannah wanted to see DeVos' confirmation hearing for herself.

After the hearing, she spoke passionately to her fellow students about the failures of DeVos' educational philosophy. In that speech, viewed millions of times online, Dannah talked about Detroit's suffering schools. She talked about her own search for quality education in charter schools, traditional public schools and even private schools. She talked about the catastrophes she'd seen in Detroit's schools and laid them squarely at DeVos' feet.

But Dannah is one of the lucky ones. When I spoke to her a few days after the hearings, her mother was driving her to a school outside Detroit. The hours-long trek was worth it, she said. Her mother agreed.

But what about students who don't have that option? What will happen to them when DeVos takes the reins of our schools?

Will the inequality that has long reigned in our education system worsen, as it seems to have done in Detroit? Will black and brown children in cities be subjected to the same kind of profit-driven education companies that failed so miserably in Michigan?

The answers to those questions remain to be seen. But with DeVos in the driver's seat, I fear our educational system is no longer about teaching children.

It's about privatization and profit. It's about politics, not people. It's about using kids as pawns.

It's about turning America into Detroit.

Solomon Jones is the author of 10 books. Listen to him mornings from 7 to 10 on WURD (900-AM).