The Future of Education and Trump’s Russian Link
By Chris Do
Illustration Credit: Rory Barber
President Trump’s cabinet choices include many controversial people, such as Betsy DeVos, who some fear will gut public education. DeVos narrowly squeaked by her confirmation hearing in a historically unprecedented tie-breaking vote by Vice President Mike Pence in early February, which put down any notion of rebellion within the Republican party. DeVos claims to support promotion of school choice, charter schools, and school voucher, but according to the Associated Press, she has no experience in education and has never held a government position. DeVos supports privatizing education and is now positioned to dismantle our education system by removing federal funding.
During her senate confirmation hearing in mid-January a few weeks before the confirmation vote, Bernie Sanders asked whether it was true that over the years her family donated over $200 million to the Republican Party.
“That’s possible.” DeVos replied in a C-Span recording. Senator Sanders continued to press, asking whether or not she would be there if her family was not a multi-million dollar contributor to the Republican Party, to which she deflected with a smile and a statement about being a voice for parents and students, particularly low income students. Many advocates for education find her statement on helping low income students hard to swallow. In general, the consensus among progressives like Bernie Sanders is that you can’t be in favor of privatizing public education while at the same time saying that you are in favor of helping low income students; those two things are contradictory to each other.
“The DeVos appointment to head up the Department of Education represents a significant shift in Federal philosophy concerning public education in the United States. DeVos has a history of favoring a voucher-driven funding approach to charter and private education,” said Matthew Freeman, BCC’s head of Political Science, when asked how students may be affected by DeVos’ confirmation.
“Her history of favoring this approach, combined with Congressional Bills already in Committee, such as HR 610, which replaces all public education funding with vouchers only, increasing inequality between private and public schools by allowing people to use public funds for private education, and HR 899, which terminates the entire the Department of Education, will have a negative impact on public education.
A “voucher only” approach (such as HR 610) to pay for public education will hurt the fiscal capacity of BCC and other publicly funded schools to maintain current levels. In addition, eliminating the Department of Education will put the entire financial burden of paying for public education exclusively on states, which already can’t afford to pay for public education on their own.”
Another member of Trump’s cabinet (briefly) was former national security adviser Michael Flynn, who resigned in late February, amidst calls to investigate Trump’s Russian ties, which some speculate could lead to the president’s impeachment. Flynn resigned after lying to Congress and the press about discussing US sanctions on Russia with the Russian ambassador, according to Politico.
A bipartisan probe into Trump’s Russian ties has been blocked by Republicans, according to the Associated Press. Allegations concerning Trump’s potential ties to Russia first arose during the campaign when Russian hacking targeted the DNC (Democratic National Convention), and exposed it as working against former candidate Bernie Sanders, in favor of Hillary Clinton.
“Trump’s potential ties to Russia are important to understand because they may affect his judgment as he makes US foreign policy,” said International Relations Coordinator Charlotte Lee of BCC, “It matters because of possible conflicts of interest that may cloud his ability to act in the best interest of the American public in US-Russia relations. This is a president who has not released his tax returns and who has not fully divested himself from his business operations, so we do not know, for example, how he might stand to gain financially from his approach to Russia. Beyond the ethics of this, constitutional experts in the US are still trying to determine whether Trump has violated the US Constitution.”
A recent straw poll of 50 Berkeley City College students showed 90 percent of the population against Trump, while a remaining 8 percent were neutral, and just 2 percent were for his policies. None of the students polled were strongly in favor of Trump’s policies. (Online poll was conducted informally by the BCC Voice, and while it may be accurate, due to self-selection and sample size, it should not considered a scientific representation.)
In conclusion, DeVos represents an overarching threat to the domestic life of many Americans engaged in the public education sector, and we should expect a major overhaul of the education system. Her controversial policies, as well as her lack of experience cast a shadow over the Trump administration.
However, the bigger shade, eclipsing the administration’s big orange sun, is its emerging Russian ties. Since Flynn’s resignation, it has been discovered that multiple White House officials have met with Russians including Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Senior White House Advisor Jared Kushner. As the story of Trump’s ties to Russia becomes clearer, we the students must stay actively engaged and aware of the rapid changes happening at the national level. We must not ignore the onslaught. We must stay informed in order to resist.