The Legacy Of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos DeVos has been a loyal lieutenant to President Trump, a hero to school choice advocates and a villain to defrauded student loan borrowers.
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How Education Secretary Betsy DeVos Will Be Remembered

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How Education Secretary Betsy DeVos Will Be Remembered

How Education Secretary Betsy DeVos Will Be Remembered

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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

President-elect Joe Biden is starting to make his Cabinet picks. Given the immense challenges students face in the pandemic, his pick for education secretary is especially significant. That person will replace Betsy DeVos, one of the most polarizing members of President Trump's Cabinet. NPR's Cory Turner reports on the impact she's had.

CORY TURNER, BYLINE: Betsy DeVos never hid her feelings about the department she ran for four years.

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BETSY DEVOS: Now, I assume most of you have never stepped foot inside the U.S. Department of Education. And I can report, you haven't missed much.

(LAUGHTER)

TURNER: Schools, she argued, should be controlled locally, so DeVos worked to undo federal oversight that she saw as overreach. She scrapped protections for transgender students as well as guidance meant to stop discriminatory school discipline.

LIZ KING: She will be remembered for the ways that she sought to undermine our civil rights laws and make school a more difficult place to be for children from marginalized backgrounds.

TURNER: Liz King of the liberal-leaning Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights says these early moves are likely to be undone by a Biden administration unlike the work DeVos did around campus sexual assault and harassment.

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DEVOS: Students who are subjected to sexual misconduct deserve deliberate and decisive action that carries the force of law.

TURNER: That was DeVos announcing new protections for victims and perpetrators of campus sexual assault. Again, Liz King.

KING: It communicated to survivors that they should not expect to be believed.

TURNER: But to DeVos, Obama-era guidance had undermined due process, and her rewrite tried to make campus investigations more fair and transparent, says Rick Hess of the conservative-leaning American Enterprise Institute.

RICK HESS: DeVos went through the full rulemaking process. They dotted all the i's, crossed all the t's. They came up with a Title IX playbook, which strikes me as both fair-minded and reasonable.

TURNER: Then there's the issue she championed most - school choice. Too many traditional public schools, she argued, were failing kids and held back by government interference.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

DEVOS: Government has never made anything better or cheaper, more effective or more efficient. And nowhere is that more true than in education.

TURNER: But DeVos' rhetoric didn't sit well with the folks who work in America's public schools.

BECKY PRINGLE: Teachers and other educators, they found their voice in that moment because they realized that they were under threat.

TURNER: Becky Pringle heads the nation's largest labor union, the National Education Association, which backed President-elect Biden. Pringle says DeVos became a rallying cry for teachers in 2018 at demonstrations for higher pay and better-funded schools.

PRINGLE: At least 50% of the signs had Betsy DeVos' name on them, demanding her removal, her resignation.

TURNER: Because of this polarizing effect, some advocates of school choice worry DeVos actually set back their cause.

MICHAEL PETRILLI: Charter schools used to have strong bipartisan support.

TURNER: Michael Petrilli of the conservative-leaning Thomas B. Fordham Institute says many Democrats who once fought with him for school choice have now turned.

PETRILLI: Joe Biden has come in with the most anti-charter school platform since charter schools were invented. And I think that some of that has to be laid at the feet of Betsy DeVos.

TURNER: On the pandemic, DeVos worked with Congress to freeze student loan payments and waived K-12 testing requirements. But in July, she also joined President Trump in pushing schools to reopen while resisting calls to provide clear national guidelines on when it's safe to reopen. Of the experts I spoke with, both critics and supporters agreed - Education Secretary Betsy DeVos has been a lightning rod who brought a charge to every policy she's touched.

Cory Turner, NPR News.

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