Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos “No Friend Of LGBTQ”

President Donald Trump’s Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos is “one of the most ineffective people ever to hold the job,” say some insiders, and education officials are already starting to plan for a “post-Devos landscape” when she is removed or steps down.

No friend to the LGBTQ community Besty wetsy is back this week with a roundup that focuses on the goings-shit storm at 400 Maryland Ave. SW — that’s the federal Department of Education, in case you didn’t know.

In a comprehensive profile, Politico said billionaire evangelical Christian Nazi DeVos has found herself stymied by the bureaucratic restraints on her job, but that bringing about change in Washington requires “time, patience and government savvy — three things she does not have.”

DeVos, said Politico’s Tim Alberta, is on a “religiously infused journey to reimagine the relationship between government, parents, teachers and schools.”

The Secretary wants to allow parents more freedom to withdraw their children from public schools and enroll them in charter schools, religious schools and private schools. What makes DeVos radical is she wants federal tax dollars to follow those children out of the public school system.

One problem with implementing her plan is that public schools receive very little of their funding from the federal government. Another is her overall unpopularity and ineffectiveness.

Her first budget proposal for the department — one which would have slashed funding from multiple school programs and reapportioned that money to DeVos’ pet cause, “school choice” — was rejected by Congress. Now, with her agenda on the rocks and morale at the Education Department cratering, some predict that DeVos may return to the private sector sooner than she’d planned.

“She can talk about bureaucracy and how constraining it is for her, but a Republican-controlled Congress rejected her budget proposals. She can’t fill her senior staff slots. Morale is terrible at the department,” says Thomas Toch of FutureEd — an education think tank affiliated with Georgetown University’s McCord School of Public Policy. “And I’ll tell you, in Washington education circles, the conversation is already about the post-DeVos landscape, because the assumption is she won’t stay long. And for my money, I don’t think it would be a bad thing if she left. I think she’s been probably one of the most ineffective people to ever hold the job.”

A long piece about Education Secretary Betsy DeVos in Politico includes her public comment, for the first time, on the Justice Department’s February decision to rescind Obama-era guidance protecting transgender students’ rights.

It was reported back then that the secretary was privately (wink wink) a personal advocate of LGBT rights and that she had opposed the Justice Department’s decision.

“I didn’t feel the timing was appropriate,” DeVos told Politico this month. Now actions speek lauder than words and the Devos donastions were all to Republican Christian candidates that have strong opposistion to the LGBTQ community. They may not be buring rainbow flag in their front yard but they are buying the fuel.

Dick DeVos donated to Michigan PACs

In the past, DeVos, her husband and his father have given many millions of dollars to political candidates. DeVos pledged during her confirmation hearings, “If I am confirmed, I will not be involved in any political contributions, and my husband will not be, either.”

screen_shot_2017-01-17_at_1.09.42_pmThe Detroit News reported this that her husband, Dick DeVos, this year contributed a total of $5,000 to two Michigan political action committees, which donated the money mostly to Republican campaigns. Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., sent a letter rebuking the secretary, saying she was “concerned that you, your husband and your extended family continue to utilize your vast wealth to influence and impose your agenda on a political system in which you already wield power as the secretary of education.”

The Department of Education did not immediately respond to a request for comment. However, Greg McNeilly, the chief operating officer of Dick DeVos’ company, Windquest Group, reached out to NPR. “From our perspective, it’s an issue that is not about Mrs. DeVos in her formal capacity as Secretary, rather as a private citizen since it involves her husband, Mr. DeVos,” McNeilly told NPR via email. He also drew a distinction between giving money to the PACs and directly to candidates.

Office of Federal Student Aid to lose jobs

While many senior positions at the Education Department remain unfilled, The Washington Post reported last week that buyouts and early retirements are being offered specifically to shrink the Office of Federal Student Aid.

FSA is charged with administering more than $120 billion in grants, loans and work-study funds each year. The money helps 13 million students pay for college. The office has around 1,400 employees, the Post reported, and lost around 24 from December through mid-June.

In May, the top official in the division, an Obama appointee, suddenly resigned. It was reported at the time that he quit over plans underway to transfer responsibility for student aid programs to the Treasury Department.

He was replaced by the CEO of a private student loan company, A. Wayne Johnson.

Nearly 600 policy documents rolled back

The department announced last week it was rolling back about 600 policy documents, including 72 relating to special education, that it says are outdated or redundant. This doesn’t change the letter of the law. But public schools rely on these regulations as guidance for providing special services, accommodations and instruction.

DeVos and the Trump administration have argued that too much regulation makes it harder for local school officials to decide what is best for children.

The immediate implications were unclear. A department spokeswoman, Liz Hill, told the blog Disability Scoop, “There are no policy implications to these rescissions.

Businessman Dick DeVos this year contributed to two Michigan political action committees despite a pledge from U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos that she and her husband would suspend their political contributions during her tenure under President Donald Trump.

State disclosure records show Dick DeVos contributed $3,000 to the Michigan Chamber of Commerce PAC on April 20 and $2,000 to the Friends of West Michigan Business Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce PAC on July 24.

Both PACs have since contributed to state and federal officials, and critics say her husband’s donations contradict the promise Betsy DeVos made to members of a congressional committee in January.

But a family spokesman defended and downplayed the PAC contributions Friday, telling The Detroit News that Betsy DeVos did not have the chance to “provide a lot of context” in her testimony.

“As it relates to Dick, I think there’s a big difference between (giving to) federal candidates and the rest of the world of political giving, and that was a distinction there wasn’t really an opportunity to make,” Greg McNeilly said. “But I think in his mind, that’s kind of where the line was drawn with her testimony.”

McNeilly suggested the pledge to suspend contributions was focused on direct giving to federal candidates. Dick DeVos is “open” — but not committed — to supporting state-level political candidates this cycle, he said.

Lonnie Scott, executive director of the Progress Michigan liberal advocacy group, said he was not surprised by the PAC contributions from Dick DeVos, which he called a “violation” of Betsy’s stated intentions.

“Did we expect her to keep her word in the first place? I think that’s the real question,” he said. “When you have spent literally millions of your own money to purchase legislators and specific policies, you’re not going to stop that once you can finally get in a position where you can influence it directly.”

Nomination fight pledge

Trump’s pick for the federal government’s top education post faced heavy scrutiny during the nomination process, in part because the school choice advocate and her husband had spent years using their family fortune to influence the political system.

During a Jan. 17 nomination hearing, Democratic U.S. Sen. Patty Murray of Washington state asked Betsy DeVos if she and her family would “continue to use its wealth to pressure state, local and federal candidates to support your agenda.”

“If I am confirmed, as you know, I will not be involved in or engaged in political contributions, and my husband will not either,” DeVos told Murray and other members of the U.S. Senate, Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee.

State and federal records show that neither Dick nor Betsy DeVos has contributed to any candidates or education-focused PACs since she was confirmed by the Senate on Feb. 7, according to state and federal records.

The $5,000 contributed by Dick DeVos, president of the Windquest Group and son of Amway co-founder Richard DeVos, also pales in comparison with political giving in past years. At this point in the 2015-16 election cycle, Betsy and Dick DeVos had given a combined $232,400 to PACs, Republican organizations and state and federal candidates.

Craig Mauger, a watchdog with the Michigan Campaign Finance Network, said DeVos left a lot of “gray area” in her pledge to suspend political giving.

“These PACs exist to raise money and then give it to political candidates, so they are political contributions,” Mauger said of the Dick DeVos donations. “The chamber is going to spend that money supporting candidates that they’ve endorsed and support.”

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos has been a lightning rod since taking office in February. But little has been known about her behind-the-scenes work to reform the way American education is delivered.

Newly released schedules obtained by the government transparency group American Oversight through a Freedom of Information Act request publicly reveal who DeVos met with and consulted in her first six months on the job.
Her office typically releases a listing of public events, but the schedules — from February 8 through July 19 — delve much deeper, showing phone calls and meetings with individuals from Silicon Valley, politics and the business world.

 Here’s what her schedule shows:

DeVos’s passion for school choice was mirrored in her selections for school visits during first months on the job.
She visited 23 schools during her first four-and-a-half months as education secretary. Among schools for children in grades K-12, she made appearances at five charter schools, four religious schools and eight public schools.
Education Week’s reporting on DeVos’s current school visits indicates that the secretary has visited 33 schools since being sworn in, including 16 traditional public schools, seven charter schools and nine private schools.
DeVos chaired the pro-charter schools group American Federation for Children and served on the board of the Foundation for Excellence in Education, which promoted school choice and Common Core.
In addition to her school visits, DeVos’s first months on the job included several meetings with charter school advocates, local and state education groups and religious organizations, according to the schedules.

Meetings with conservatives, business groups, and financiers

DeVos, the former chair of an investment firm whose husband, Dick DeVos, is the CEO of Amway, met with several business groups interested in learning about her new role.
DeVos attended meetings with the Greater Phoenix Economic Council, the South Carolina African American Chamber of Commerce and the Florida Chamber of Commerce.
She also met with former House Majority Leader Eric Cantor. In his new role with the investment bank Moelis & Co., Cantor and other bankers met with DeVos to talk about the Department of Education’s existing portfolio on student loans. A note on the meeting said the investment group was there “to discuss a private/public partnership approach to fund student loans in the future.”
In addition to investment bankers in Washington, she also visited some big names in Silicon Valley, including Emerson Collective, Google, and Thiel Capital.
Not surprisingly, many visitors to DeVos’ office have been figures in the education reform movement or stakeholders in her school choice efforts. Some have represented charter schools, such as the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, or religious groups, like the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and the American Association of Christian Schools, whose members could see enrollment grow if more states adopt voucher programs.

Meetings with celebrities

In addition to meeting with Emerson Collective’s Laurene Powell Jobs and having breakfast with Peter Thiel at his home, DeVos met with some notable entertainers.
In April, DeVos joined musician Pitbull at his charter school in Miami.
She also spent a half hour in her office with Caitlyn Jenner, although the topics discussed in their meeting were not disclosed. Jenner, who says she may run for office, wouldn’t go into detail about the meeting, but speaking about the Trump administration’s work on LGBTQ issues, told the Daily Beast “(DeVos is) actually on our side. She’s extraordinarily good.” Jenner has also voiced dissent over President Donald Trump’s decision to rescind Obama-era protections which allowed transgender students to use the bathrooms of their choice at their schools.
And “Hillbilly Elegy” author J.D. Vance got a “lunch and learn” call from DeVos in July.

Messaging advice

DeVos’s schedule also reveals she has been consulting with messaging experts.
Conservative messaging guru and pollster Frank Luntz brought DeVos ideas for communicating her policy priorities.
“Frank has a 60 slide deck of the words to use and the words to lose regarding parental choice, vouchers, charter schools, teacher pay, and all other issues in education reform,” reads a note on the June 21 calendar entry.
In her second week on the job, DeVos met with Diana Banister, whose firm has worked with conservative clients such as Citizens United, Tea Party Patriots and the Susan B. Anthony List.
DeVos also spoke by phone in February with Kayleigh McEnany, who is now a spokeswoman for the Republican National Committee and was, at the time, a conservative commentator on CNN.
The next day, DeVos attended the Conservative Political Action Conference, where she gave a speech and fielded a series of softball questions onstage from McEnany.

DeVos and teachers’ unions at war

There’s no love lost between DeVos and the nation’s largest teachers’ unions.
Lily Eskelsen García of the National Education Association labeled DeVos the “the queen of for-profit privatization of public education.”
Randi Weingarten of the American Federation of Teachers branded her “an existential threat to public education” and bashed school vouchers as “only slightly more polite cousins of segregation.”
DeVos bludgeoned unions for defending the “status quo” and what she called an archaic “system that by every account is failing too many kids.”
While both union presidents have lashed out at DeVos, the documents show very different approaches behind the scenes.
Eskelsen García has kept true to her pledge to not work with DeVos — neither she nor representatives from NEA appear on DeVos’ schedule.
Weingarten and DeVos, however, have had an ongoing dialogue. They’ve talked at least three times by phone — in February, April and May — and together visited a public school in Ohio. The first call came a week after DeVos was sworn in.
DeVos’s office did not comment for this report.

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