Betsy DeVos

Though perhaps many missed it at the time amidst the avalanche of dramatic and negative news pertaining to the still young Trump administration, one of the president’s first actions as chief-executive was to effectively turn back the clock on minority rights by rescinding an Obama-era rule that enshrined liberal restroom access guidelines for people who identify as transgender.

Before the White House announced this decision back in February, Betsy DeVos -– the embattled education secretary who was then not far removed from a bruising and embarrassing confirmation hearing and was still trying to gain a foothold in the hot-house environment of Washington -– took it upon herself to be physically present inside a room in the Education Department while her aide explained to a transgender rights employee what the whole world would learn about a few hours later.

In public, Betsy DeVos did not hint at any internal rifts regarding this decision, but as reports had speculated at the time, it turned out there indeed had been a small battle of wills inside the administration, primarily between attorney general Jeff Sessions –- a Washington insider’s insider with decades of experience and an influential voice in Trump’s ear for some time -– and Ms. DeVos. Though she spoke at the Conservative Political Action Conference the next day and seemed to support her boss’ directive affecting federally funded schools, the fact is that Ms. DeVos went to bat for not only her own transgender employees at her department, but for transgender people and minorities all across the nation.

Though in this case she failed and suffered an early setback, critics and allies alike share the same view that Ms. DeVos is a political fighter, should not ever be counted out, has firm and deeply held convictions and has the ability to forge positive alliances to further her goals born of these convictions.

Trump’s February decision — which inserted yet another matter of national contention into the already heated debate regarding federal school policy -– although proving a hefty and multifaceted setback, if anything caused Ms. DeVos to renew her resolve and redouble her efforts.

A lifelong passion and priority of Ms. DeVos’ has been the issue, as she and other reform advocates call it, of school choice. In her capitalistic viewpoint, the nation’s public school systems represent a monopoly and these situations aren’t given to reform or innovation if things aren’t working optimally. Monopolies are biased towards the status quo, and this concerns Ms. DeVos because, objectively, the nation’s public schools –- even the better-performing ones –- simply aren’t performing as well as they should.

In Ms. DeVos’ dream scenario -– which goes further than even some leading advocates for school choice and which downright scares some liberals considering she’s currently the leader of the Department of Education — funding for charter schools and school vouchers would be about on a par with funding for public schools. She has also in the past resisted calls for more oversight and regulation of charter schools and most controversially seems to have no qualms with charter schools being run by for-profit organizations. Learn more: https://www.theatlantic.com/education/archive/2017/03/a-tale-of-two-betsy-devoses/518952/

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