When the Trump administration decided to nix the Obama-era regulations that allowed transgender students to use whichever bathroom they were comfortable with, Betsy DeVos got in front of the issue by meeting with transgender employees at the Education Department to tell them what was happening. Aides assured employees that the policy change was not something she had encouraged, on the contrary she had fought the decision. Still, DeVos didn’t public argue with Trump’s decision and appeared at the announcement event and spoke in muted support of it at the Conservative Political Action Conference.
Many felt she had been weak in that decision-making process, having Trump go over her head on education policy. However, those who have known Betsy DeVos say that she shouldn’t be underestimated. In Michigan state politics, she had been formidable because of her determination to achieve her goals.
Most believe that the apparent loss on transgender students was a result of Betsy not having as close a relationship with President Trump and lacking experience working within a government institution. That put her on a lower rung than, for example, Attorney General Jeff Sessions when the decision was made. She’s expected to become a more effective Secretary of Education as she learns how politics works in the Federal bureaucracy.
She also lacks direct relationships within the public education school system, having come from a private school in her own education and supported the charter school movement prior to joining the Trump administration. Betsy DeVos has worked for decades to take public funds from the public school system in Michigan and direct it towards charter schools attempting to establish themselves. She also supported the school voucher movement to allow public funding of private schools. This background put Betsy DeVos at odds with many of the career employees at the Department of Education, who view these efforts as a conservative strategy to undermine public education.
One of her initial acts after becoming secretary was to contact the leadership of the major teachers’ unions to open lines of communication. She took the opportunity to visit public schools and build a relationship with the educators there. Her supporters say it’s this kind of quiet bridge-building that will make her a more effective secretary in the future.
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