Progressives Sen. Bernie Sanders and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez have lashed out at Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos after she criticised calls for higher education to be made a public good.
On Tuesday, Ms DeVos called progressive proposals for higher education to be freely available and proposals from the Biden administration to forgive student debt “a socialist takeover of higher education.”
She made the comments during a Federal Student Aid offices virtual conference.
“We’ve heard shrill calls to cancel, to forgive, to make it all free. Any innocuous label out there can’t obfuscate what it really is – wrong,” Ms DeVos said. “The campaign for free college is a matter of government control. Make no mistake, it is a socialist takeover of higher education.”
Later that day, Mr Sanders made it clear he would not mourn Ms DeVos’s departure from the position.
“Hmm. What do you call a billionaire who registered a $40m, 164-foot yacht in the Cayman Islands to avoid $2.4m in US taxes, while undermining public schools? The worst Education Secretary in the history of America,” Mr Sanders tweeted. “Bye-bye, Betsy DeVos. You won’t be missed.”
Ms Ocasio-Cortez also weighed in on Ms DeVos’ comments.
“Tuition-free public college is a dangerous socialist takeover of higher ed, as opposed to the far superior capitalist takeover of higher ed, which reliably buries millions of Americans in trillions of dollars in debt and graduates them into low paying jobs without good healthcare,” she wrote in response.
Sen Elizabeth Warren also chimed in, sarcastically remarking that “we were all just dying to know what the unqualified billionaire who made this problem worse thinks about helping people.”
Ms DeVos warned that making college available as a public good and forgiving people’s debts would hurt the economy. She was likely alluding to such a plan relying on increased taxes on corporations and the ultrawealthy.
“Ultimately, nothing is ‘free.’ Somebody, somewhere pays the bill,” she said. “And the bill is coming due. What we do next in education policy — and in public policy writ large — will either break our already fragile economy, or it will unleash an age of achievement and prosperity, the likes of which we’ve never seen.”
Ms DeVos is less critical of government spending when it comes to her brother, Erik Prince, who formerly ran the mercenary group Blackwater and attempted to worm his way back into the military-industrial complex under Donald Trump’s administration. Mr Prince drew up a proposal for Mr Trump to authorise the use of 6,000 mercenaries in Afghanistan, but then-Defense Secretary James Mattis shot down his idea, stating “when Americans put their nation’s credibility on the line, privatizing it is probably not a wise idea.”
It is unclear what Ms DeVos is challenging when she calls proposals for free public higher education “socialist,” as she has previously advocated for billions of taxpayer dollars to be used as scholarships allowing parents to send their children to private schools.
Ms DeVos’ main education plan during her time in the position has been pushing “educational freedom,” which is a catch phrase for government subsidy of private charter schools.
Critics argued that charter and private schools soak up taxpayer money that would have otherwise gone to public schools.
Despite Ms Devos’ prophesying an “age of achievement and prosperity,” analysts ultimately do not believe her legacy in American government will be much more than a footnote.
“If we fast-forward 10 years and look back at this period, we’re not going to see much,” Dale Chu, a senior visiting fellow at the Fordham Institute, a right-leaning think tank, told USA Today.
Ms DeVos was arguably the least popular member of Mr Trump’s administration, only securing her confirmation thanks to a single vote cast by Mike Pence.
Progressive Democrats and educator’s unions especially despise Ms DeVos.
“She came into that position with one purpose in mind: to destroy public education,” Becky Pringle, president of the National Education Association said.
Ms Pringle pointed out that public schools – not charter or private – enroll 90% of the country’s schoolchildren.
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