Elizabeth Warren promised earlier today that she would have a public school teacher become Secretary of Education if she’s elected president. Folks who closely follow education policy likely realize this is not only a good policy idea, but also a jab at Betsy DeVos, the woman who currently holds the position.
Before she was sworn into office, DeVos had made it her life’s mission to combat public education because she believed it was a “dead end.” She was known as being advocate for school vouchers, which would steer public money away from public schools and into private facilities, and declared that her education reform efforts were part of her efforts to “advance God’s kingdom.” While these might not be sinister causes, they very clearly show she has no interest in strengthening our public schools — something the Department of Education should be focused on.
As a member of the Senate HELP Committee who got to question DeVos during her confirmation process, Sen. Warren was one of the more vocal opponents of the Secretary’s nomination. Her concerns have proven to be justified as DeVos has had an extremely controversial tenure at the Department of Education. The Secretary tried to roll back protections for minority students, killed programs that help students from low income families, and has refused to even consider any meaningful reforms to help prevent gun violence in our schools.
On the other hand, it’s worth noting that before becoming involved in politics, Warren herself was actually a teacher and a fierce advocate for making a better education more accessible to everyone. She briefly taught special education before becoming a highly respected law professor who had a reputation of being highly engaging with her students and doing everything she could to help them succeed. In other words, this is a concept she truly believes in and isn’t just something she’s promising because she had a speech before the American Federation of Teachers.
While DeVos might be the polar opposite of a public school teacher, appointing one to such a powerful position isn’t a completely foreign concept. In Virginia, Governor Ralph Northam appointed Atif Qarni, a former middle school civics teacher from Prince William County, to be his Secretary of Education. Qarni has been extremely well received in Virginia by the education community as he brought direct knowledge of the struggles both teachers and students face while in the classroom. This knowledge is part of what’s allowed him to be successful in his efforts to fight for teachers and public schools even as other statewide officials in Virginia have been caught up in scandals.
This concept also ties into the larger message Sen. Warren has focused on throughout her political career and the 2020 presidential campaign; that the public deserves a government that’s serving the best interests of everyone, not just millionaires and billionaires who can already afford expensive private schools for their children. This is just the latest example of how Warren would go about making sure that happens if she’s elected.