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“Trumptastrophe”: MAGA Republicans and Their Efforts To Dismantle Public Education

News & Analysis

Welcome to our weekly “Trumptastrophe” email series, that serves to remind us all of the destructive policies, decisions, and actions we encountered during the Trump presidency and the threats that he and others in the MAGA movement still pose – and to keep those moments clear in our memory as we fight to defeat Republican extremists during the upcoming elections.

This week’s Trumptastrophe brings into focus the Far Right’s ongoing attempts to dismantle and privatize public education, and how Trump enabled their efforts by choosing infamous public school critic, Betsy DeVos, as his Secretary of Education:

On February 2017, Vice President Mike Pence broke a tie in the U.S. Senate to confirm billionaire education privatization activist Betsy DeVos as Trump’s Secretary of Education in the face of intense opposition. When Trump nominated DeVos, People For the American Way called it “a new high-water mark” in the right wing’s “long war on public education.”

People For’s report noted that DeVos, who had been called “the four-star general of the voucher movement,” promoted right-wing propaganda smearing Democrats and public schools are hostile to people of faith. More importantly, the report noted—and 60 Minutes later confirmed—that the policies DeVos had pushed in her home state were simply not working for students as promised.

DeVos and her extraordinarily wealthy family had played a key role in building a broad and aggressive right-wing anti-public education infrastructure—and they have been major supporters of religious-right political groups who had rallied around Trump. She poured money into politics to elect legislators who backed vouchers for religious schools and the expansion of unaccountable charter school policies that fostered corruption and exacerbated educational inequities.

“DeVos isn’t shy about using her family’s deep pockets to buy politicians and policies more to her liking,” said the People For report. Indeed, DeVos was a founding board member of the James Madison Center for Free Speech, whose mission is to eliminate all limits on money in politics.

DeVos’s used her tenure to promote the diversion of education funds to private schools; it was also notable for rescinding guidance documents protecting the rights of disabled and LGBTQ students.

DeVos served in Trump’s cabinet until her resignation the day after the Jan. 6, 2021 attack on the U.S. Capitol. Sen. Elizabeth Warren responded to DeVos’s resignation by calling her “the worst Secretary of Education ever” and tweeting, “Betsy DeVos has never done her job to help America’s students. It doesn’t surprise me one bit that she’d rather quit than do her job to help invoke the 25th Amendment”—a mechanism that some public officials urged Pence and cabinet members to invoke to strip Trump of his powers as unfit to serve after inciting the insurrection.

DeVos is a good example of the Washington saying that “personnel is policy.” And that’s very bad news when it comes to a potential second Trump presidency:

  • DeVos told a Moms for Liberty gathering in 2022 that she believes the Education Department should be abolished. That’s also essentially the agenda of Project 2025, a MAGA movement battle plan to “take the reins of government” if, as if the project’s right-wing organizers hope, Trump is elected president this year. Project 2025 is led by the Heritage Foundation and backed by almost 100 right-wing religious, legal, and political groups, including think tanks founded by former Trump officials.
  • The 900-page plan calls for purging civil servants, replacing them with pre-vetted Trump loyalists, and advancing right-wing policies across the spectrum. “Project 2025 Wants to End Public Education As We Know It,” summarized Peter Greene in a Bucks County Beacon analysis of Project 2025’s education proposals.  Indeed, the plan explicitly embraces the vision of the late Milton Friedman, who wanted education turned over to the free market—with states free to spend federal education funds however they wish, with no requirement that they be spent to support students with special needs or in low-income districts—and no accountability for how funds are spent.
  • Most of the Department would be axed, including its Office of Civil Rights. “The federal government should confine its involvement in education policy to that of a statistics-gathering agency that disseminates information to the states,” according to Lindsey Burke, head of the Heritage Foundation’s Center for Education Policy. Project 2025 also calls for passage of national versions of state-level bans on teaching about LGBTQ people and “critical race theory.”

If Trump manages to win election this year, it will because of a massive effort on his behalf by religious-right activists who want to either dismantle public education by diverting its funds to religious schools, or turn public schools and colleges into centers for indoctrination in MAGA ideology with propaganda provided by the likes of Hillsdale College and PragerU. Either would be disastrous for students, schools, communities, and democracy.

These are just some of the reasons we need YOU in this fight. So, find your favorite way to unwind after reading through this week’s recap, and then make a plan for how you will fight back this week, this month, this election cycle.