Betsy DeVos, a longtime Republican supporter and donor, is proving to be one of President Trump’s most controversial Cabinet nominees. DeVos, the new president’s pick for education secretary, riled politicians, pundits and education professionals when, in her confirmation hearing, she stumbled when asked whether guns should be allowed in public schools and on schools’ legal obligations toward students with disabilities. The billionaire evangelical Christian from Michigan is also being scrutinized for her outspoken support of school vouchers, which would give taxpayer money to parents who send their children to private schools, including religious ones. Many see this as a potential violation of the Constitution’s guarantee of the separation of church and state, while others say vouchers would provide more educational choices, especially where local public schools perform poorly. This mini-edition of ReligionLink offers resources and tips for reporters covering the faith angle to DeVos’ nomination, which is scheduled for a Senate committee vote on Jan. 31.
- Read “Why Evangelicals are Speaking Out Against Betsy DeVos” by Laura Turner for Politico, Jan. 31, 2017.
- Read “Panic over school choice and the ‘scary Christian,’” a commentary by Heather Wilhelm for the Chicago Tribune, Jan. 20, 2017. The takeaway: Wilhelm laments the use of DeVos’ Christianity against her nomination.
- Read “What We Learned (and Didn’t) About Betsy DeVos At Her Confirmation Hearing” by Erin Einhorn and Sarah Darville for FiveThirtyEight, Jan. 18, 2017. The takeaway: a roundup of DeVos’ statements on schools vouchers, science, guns (and bears) in schools and more.
- Read “Trump’s education pick says reform can ‘advance God’s kingdom’” by Benjamin Wermund for Politico, Dec. 2, 2016. The takeaway: a look at the comments DeVos made at The Gathering, a Christian conference, in 2001.
- Read “Betsy DeVos Wants to Use America’s Schools to Build ‘God’s Kingdom’” by Kristina Rizga for Mother Jones, Jan. 17, 2017. The takeaway: Rizga asks whether DeVos can balance her evangelical Christianity and passion for vouchers with her promise to uphold the separation of church and state.
- Read “Another Unrealistic Trump Policy Proposal: Homeschool Vouchers” by Jessica Huseman for ProPublica, Sept. 14, 2016.
- Read a 2013 interview DeVos did with Philanthropy magazine.
- The Detroit News endorsed DeVos as education secretary.
- Snopes maintains a fact-check of things being said about DeVos.
- C-SPAN has posted a video of DeVos’ confirmation hearing. Go to c-span.org and search “DeVos” and “hearing.”
- The National Education Association opposes school vouchers.
- The National Conference of State Legislatures maintains an informational page on school vouchers in the U.S.
- EdChoice, an advocacy group in favor of school choice and vouchers, maintains a page of information on the issues.
Joshua Cowen is an associate professor of education at Michigan State University in East Lansing and an expert on school vouchers and charter schools.
Jim Daly is president of Focus on the Family, a global Christian ministry dedicated to helping families thrive. Contact Daly through Focus on the Family vice president of media and public relations Paul Batura.
Daly has written in support of DeVos’ nomination.
Greg Forster is a Friedman Fellow at EdChoice, an Indianapolis-based advocacy group that supports school choice, where he specializes in public education issues, including vouchers. Contact via Jennifer Wagner, vice president of communications for EdChoice.
Forster wrote an article about religious groups that favor school choice for the Oklahoma Council for Public Affairs.
Frederick “Rick” Hess is a political scientist and scholar at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington, D.C., who specializes in K-12 education issues.
DeVos is on the board of the American Enterprise Institute and Hess has defended her nomination on PBS NewsHour.
Christopher Lubienski is a professor of education at Indiana University in Bloomington. He is an expert on school choice and vouchers and the battle over them between religious group and secular groups. Contact via Steve Hinnefeld, news and media specialist.
The Secular Student Alliance is based in Minneapolis and describes itself as “an umbrella organization uniting atheist, agnostic, humanist, rationalist, skeptic, and freethought students and groups on high school and campuses across the world.” The SSA has a list of affiliates around the country and the world.
SSA is organizing students on college campuses across the U.S. to oppose DeVos’s nomination. Contact Christian Norton, acting director of communications.
Katherine Stewart is the author of The Good News Club: The Christian Right’s Stealth Assault on America’s Children, a look at religious fundamentalism’s influence on public education (2012).
Stewart wrote a commentary for The New York Times opposing DeVos’ nomination.
Abram Van Engen is an associate professor of english and a faculty affiliate of the John C. Danforth Center on Religion and Politics at Washington University in St. Louis, where his interests include early American literature and culture, Puritanism, sentimentalism, and religion.
Van Engen, an evangelical with a Calvinist background, wrote an essay for Religion & Politics in which he spoke against the appointment of DeVos.