These last couple years, I’ve had a recurring thought: why can’t anybody with a lot of money just do nothing with it? It seems like everyone, deserving or undeserving, who’s had the kiss of fortune on their life wants to be a leader. They want to tell the rest of us how to live. Nobody asked, but they feel like they have some wisdom to impart on us.
This week, Betsy DeVos, the billionaire secretary of education, presented her proposal for the Department of Education’s fiscal year 2020 budget. This proposal really made me wish she was just a billionaire and not also our secretary of education.
First, before you learn about this budget proposal, dwell on a couple of statistics. A recent report by the nonprofit EdBuild found that majority-white schools receive $23 billion more than schools that serve predominantly students of color. In the last college graduating class, 69 percent of students took out loans worth an average of $29,800. Betsy DeVos’ yacht is worth a staggering $40 million.
Fully aware of each of these statistics, DeVos gave her budget philosophy to a House committee on education. “We are not doing our children any favors when we borrow from their future in order to invest in systems and policies that are not yielding better results,” she said to a House subcommittee.
This trade-off between the present and our children’s future doesn’t exist, but DeVos wants us to think it does. The result is an absurd budget where the Department of Education cuts $7.1 billion, a decrease of 10 percent from the previous year.
These cuts affect many programs, often with no rhyme or reason. DeVos proposes eliminating the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program, which allows public servants to write off their loans if they’ve made 120 qualifying payments. The federal work-study program gets its funding slashed by half.
The proposal even seems to contradict DeVos’ stated aims. DeVos has been vocal about her support for career and technical education (CTE) programs, saying that a four-year degree shouldn’t be the only option for students looking for more education. So, DeVos keeps her funding level flat from the previous year. As the Association for Career and Technical Education wrote, her cuts to literacy programs, teacher development and student aid all hurt CTE students and teachers.
The funding cut that makes the least sense, though, is DeVos’ approach to the Special Olympics. Last year, DeVos took the honorable step of donating her salary as secretary of education to the Special Olympics, along with to three other nonprofits. That same year, she proposed cutting Special Olympics’ funding by $12.5 million.
This year, Special Olympics would be glad to even receive from $12.5 million from DeVos. The proposed budget eliminates all federal funding for the organization — $17.6 million. DeVos’ proposal doesn’t move the money around to other special education programs, either. She simply slashes Special Olympics’ federal funding — nearly 10 percent of its total funding.
Congress doesn’t have to accept this budget. Usually, it ignores or often funds at levels higher than the Trump administration’s proposals. That’s highly likely this year with a Democratic House, but it doesn’t take away from the awfulness of DeVos’ proposal.
In her prepared remarks, DeVos said her approach to the budget this year was “freedom.” She elaborated, saying, “This budget focuses on freedom for teachers. Freedom for parents. And freedom for all students.” However, I think we would be a lot more free if DeVos sounded out her ideas about education in the comfort of her $40 million yacht, rather than our nation’s capital.