I don’t normally agree with the editorial board of the New York Times on education, but even they have a hard time stomaching Betsy DeVos:
Big Worries About Betsy DeVos
By THE EDITORIAL BOARD
JAN. 10, 2017
The director of the Office of Government Ethics, the nonpartisan agency charged with vetting the financial disclosures of cabinet nominees for potential conflicts of interest, sent an extraordinary letter to Senate Democratic leaders late last week. Never in the four-decade history of the agency, he wrote, have ethics officials felt such “undue pressure … to rush through these important reviews,” leaving “some of the nominees with potentially unknown or unresolved ethics issues shortly before their scheduled hearings.”
As the Senate races forward with confirmation hearings this week, the spottiest disclosures have come from wealthy private-sector nominees with no governing experience and many potential conflicts. In other words, the people most in need of a complete ethics review.
Exhibit A is Betsy DeVos, a billionaire and education lobbyist who is President-elect Donald Trump’s pick for education secretary. Ms. DeVos’s finances are a tangle that could take weeks to investigate. Despite that, Republicans had set her confirmation hearing for Wednesday. But late Monday night, they pushed it back to next Tuesday.
People who have seen her financial disclosures so far say that Ms. DeVos and her husband, Dick DeVos, have investments in some 250 companies registered to a single Grand Rapids, Mich., address, entities whose investments could take weeks for the ethics office to research. Already, though, there are reports that the DeVoses are indirect investors in Social Finance Inc., a private company that refinances student loans. Private lenders like Social Finance are banned from most of the direct student lending market; their lobbyists have already written to the Trump transition team pitching to change that. That’s only one potential conflict. What if her family has holdings in educational technology or for-profit colleges? Given time, the ethics office will learn this, and reach an agreement with Ms. DeVos to sell off assets that could pose a conflict.
Beyond erasing concerns about her many possible financial conflicts, Ms. DeVos also faces a big challenge in explaining the damage she’s done to public education in her home state, Michigan. She has poured money into charter schools advocacy, winning legislative changes that have reduced oversight and accountability. About 80 percent of the charter schools in Michigan are operated by for-profit companies, far higher than anywhere else. She has also argued for shutting down Detroit public schools, with the system turned over to charters or taxpayer money given out as vouchers for private schools. In that city, charter schools often perform no better than traditional schools, and sometimes worse.
Mr. Trump has at times displayed breathtaking ignorance about the powers and basic function of government. Many on his transition team are new to government service as well. But the Senate, and people advising him, including Reince Priebus, his chief of staff, have no excuse.
Mr. Trump’s nominees will need only a simple majority vote to be confirmed. So what’s the hurry? Republicans seem worried that the more time the Senate has to examine some of these nominees’ backgrounds, the more chance a Republican or three could break ranks. Maybe they’re afraid of Mr. Trump’s ire, should any of his picks generate red flags. That’s backward thinking, of course: The potential for conflicts is more reason, not less, to take the time needed for thorough vetting, and the only route to a responsible vote.