Coleman: Trump’s schools pick is scary

Ken Coleman

Few of President-elect Donald Trump’s cabinet picks frighten me more than Betsy DeVos as education secretary.

Sure, his foreign policy team is suspect and potentially dangerous. His nominee for attorney general, U.S. Sen. Jeff Sessions, is a throwback to pre-Civil Rights era Jim Crow days. But DeVos, a former Michigan Republican Party chair, is scary on steroids.

Let’s review:

■In 1993, she worked to pass Michigan’s first charter-school bill. It opened the door for public money to be shifted to quasi-independent educational institutions.

■In 2001 she reportedly singled out education reform as a way to “advance God’s kingdom.”

■In 2003, as a board member of Children First America and the American Education Reform Council, and later as the chair of the American Federation for Children, she lobbied for school-choice voucher programs and tax-credit initiatives.

A growing number of people, this writer included, believe that Trump through DeVos intends to move forward on a voucher plan for America’s public schools and turn a blind eye to regulatory oversight. And that’s dangerous — especially for urban public school districts.

In response to Trump’s nomination of DeVos to lead the Department of Education, American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten declared:

“Betsy DeVos is everything Donald Trump said is wrong in America — an ultra-wealthy heiress who uses her money to game the system and push a special-interest agenda that is opposed by the majority of voters. Installing her in the Department of Education is the opposite of Trump’s promise to drain the swamp.”

How does DeVos feel about the nomination?

“I am honored to work with the President-elect on his vision to make American education great again,” DeVos tweeted last month.

When was education great?

■Was that before 1869 when the Michigan Supreme Court ruled that the Detroit Public Schools couldn’t lawfully operate separate systems for black students and white students — and that black kids would go to school with white kids?

■Was that before the seminal U.S. Supreme Court ruling that struck down separate but equal in the historic 1954 Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka decision?

■Was that before black parents, the NAACP and others joined a class action lawsuit against the state of Michigan arguing that African-American children were the victims of systemic racial discrimination in the 1971 Bradley v. Milliken case?

■Was that before the 1997 Durant v. State Board of Education case where the State Supreme Court mandated that Michigan school districts provide appropriate funding for special education programs and students?

Here’s what we know: Trump campaigned on using our tax dollars to encourage states to make school choice available to all poor students, including through vouchers that allow families to take public funding to private schools.

Yes, election have consequences but that doesn’t mean that we should sit back and allow foolishness to happen. I’m actively encouraging my friends to support efforts to fight back against Trump, DeVos and others who look to dismantle public school districts and make it harder for children to receive a quality education. If we aren’t careful, history will repeat itself.

Ken Coleman is a former communications director for the Michigan Democratic Party and Detroit Public Schools.