Betsy DeVos Downplays the Power of the Education Department

by Paul Crookston

This morning the news site Axios published a write-up of an interview with Betsy DeVos, in which she laid out what she wishes she had said differently during her confirmation hearing. In addition, she touched on a much more important topic: the role of the federal government in the area of education. DeVos reiterated her commitment to limiting the role of her own department. She should stick to this.

DeVos was asked if the federal government has a role in education at all, and she said, “It would be fine with me to have myself worked out of a job, but . . . I’m not sure that there will be a champion movement in Congress to do that.” In both downplaying the department’s importance and deferring to Congress, she signaled that she will buck the trend of education secretaries trusting in the beneficent power of the administrative state.

DeVos went on to say that she considers the appropriate federal role in education as being limited to the matter of equal access. She named desegregation and ensuring that women have sports teams as legitimate objectives, but said that right now she does not see areas in urgent need of federal intervention.

Clearly, DeVos is trying to lower the temperature of the debate. She will be touring schools with the president of the American Federation of Teachers, Randi Weingarten, a union boss who used DeVos’s nomination to call her “an ultra-wealthy heiress who uses her money to game the system.” And she has refused to engage in name-calling, even after a union-organized protest led to her being shouted and refused entry to a school.

It would be all-too-typical of Washington, D.C., for a reformer to ascend to the top position within the Education Department and begin compromising her principles on the federal role in education — especially when she is under President Trump, who has touted executive-branch power. Thus far, the signs that DeVos is sending are welcome.

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