Voters in Michigan, Betsy DeVos’s home state, handed the education secretary a stinging rebuke in Tuesday’s elections, voting in a new governor who spoke out against DeVos’s education agenda.
And it wasn’t the only place DeVos’s agenda got smacked by voters. While Tuesday’s elections results weren’t all bad news for her, voters rejected her agenda in Wisconsin, Arizona, Illinois and other states. And the Democratic takeover of the House is bad news for her, too, with the majority now likely to intensify its oversight of her department.
Gretchen Whitmer, a former minority leader of the Michigan state Senate, campaigned as a friend of the troubled Detroit public school district and promised to invest more money in public schools, focus on early-childhood education and respect teachers.
And she went straight after DeVos, a Michigan billionaire who has long been prominent in the movement to find alternatives to traditional public school districts and who once said that public schools are “a dead end.” DeVos has been a strong supporter of charter schools, which are publicly funded but privately managed, and of programs that use public money for private and public education.
DeVos was a major force in the troubled expansion of charter schools in Michigan, which has, by far, the highest percentage of schools operated by for-profit companies of any state. DeVos was born and raised in Michigan, where she was chairwoman of the state Republican Party.
Charters run by for-profit companies have worse outcomes for students than those run by nonprofits, according to research, which also shows that public school districts are losing resources to charters in the state.
Whitmer didn’t mince words when it came to DeVos, blaming her for Michigan’s slide in state rankings of education. Her campaign literature said:
A generation ago, Michigan led the world in public education. This was the state families packed up and moved to because parents knew their children could get a quality education and the skills they needed to get a good-paying job. As a mom with two daughters in high school, these are the same opportunities I want for my own kids.
But over the past eight years, Republicans in Lansing have sided with Betsy DeVos to push an education agenda that included slashing school funding, expanding unaccountable for-profit managed charter schools, over-emphasizing standardized tests, attacking hard-working educators and adopting a one-size fits all approach to education that has left our kids behind.
This agenda has resulted in Michigan being near the bottom of the country on almost every meaningful metric from student literacy to college preparedness. Our educational crisis affects urban, rural and suburban school systems alike, and it disproportionately affects kids who are at-risk or have special needs.
It doesn’t have to be like this.
To be sure, there was some good electoral news for DeVos, including the election of Republican Ron DeSantis as Florida governor. DeSantis is a strong believer in expanding school choice. And in California, a pro-charter-school candidate was ahead in the race for state superintendent of public instruction, though he does not support all of the DeVos agenda.
But in Wisconsin, a Democratic education secretary, Tony Evers, took the governorship away from the Republican incumbent, Scott Walker, who was an education ally of DeVos’s.
In Arizona, voters overturned a law that had expanded the state’s school voucher program, though they did reelect a Republican governor who supports charters and vouchers.
In Illinois, Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner, who supported DeVos’s school choice agenda, lost his reelection bid to a Democrat.
And some educators who have been critical of DeVos won election to state and federal legislative seats. For example, in a historic win, Jahana Hayes, the 2016 National Teacher of the Year, won a seat in the House from Connecticut, the first black woman from the state to serve in Congress.
How will this affect DeVos and her tenure? Stay tuned.