DeVos, Fuller discuss future of education


“There is a distinction between public education and the system that provides it. This statement from Howard Fuller, professor emeritus at Marquette University, epitomized the conversation between himself and former US Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos on Tuesday night.

The event, titled “In Conversation with Betsy Devos and Howard Fuller: The Future of Education” was presented by UW-Madison’s Tommy G. Thompson Center on Public Leadership at UW Oshkosh.

DeVos served as education secretary for the Trump administration from 2017 to 2021; she resigned shortly after the January 6 insurgency and before President Biden took office. Fuller is a longtime civil rights advocate and the former superintendent of the Milwaukee Public School District. He is well known for his 2014 novel No Struggle, No Progress: A Warrior’s Life from Black Power to Education Reform, which details his pursuit of educational reform, particularly among black students.

Introducing the event, UWO Chancellor Andrew Leavitt said, “We value the opportunities to meet and engage with national leaders and scholars who share the [Thompson] The Center’s commitment to reaching out to campuses and communities…and to examining topics, trends and ideas that often expand and even challenge our notion of learning and living here and beyond.

The event, which was moderated by Gerard Randall, a Thompson Center associate, devoted the first hour to questions posed by Randall to both DeVos and Fuller.

Fuller and DeVos share a belief in the value of parental choice and school choice in education. DeVos called policies promoting these values ​​“educational freedom.”

“Money for the child follows the child to where the family decides it is best suited and the best environment for them,” DeVos said. “With the freedom of education, there will be a lot more creativity with the types of schools and the types of learning environments that children can access.”

Fuller affirmed his support for school choice, but qualified that support, saying the material needs of families must be met in addition to “people’s right to choose a school”.

DeVos and Fuller touched on a variety of other topics, including school safety, political polarization, school boards and President Biden’s student debt relief program.

On debt relief, DeVos made his position known.

“I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: it’s a horrible and illegal policy,” she said. “A executive cannot simply take the role of Congress and shift the cost of billions and billions of dollars onto two out of three American taxpayers who either did not attend college or who faithfully repaid their college loans.

Liam Beran/Advance-Titan—Howard Fuller

Fuller understands that concern, but said the issue is more complex.

“I actually get concern from people who never went to college,” he said. “[They think] ‘why should I pay…taxes for people who went to college [when] I never had the opportunity to go there. I would say then, let’s talk about a whole bunch of other things that you pay with your taxes that don’t benefit you.

Fuller added, “I don’t know if I necessarily disagree with all aspects of [what DeVos said]. For people who are in huge debt due to going to college, I would try to find ways for people to do a favor to our community to help clear some of that debt.

DeVos’s and Fuller’s ideas regarding education caused controversy. As reported by The Hechinger Reporta publication covering “inequality and innovation in education,” Fuller’s dedication to black-run, black-majority schools “created unlikely alliances with deep-pocketed conservatives and put him at odds with leading civil rights advocates.

Meanwhile, in an NPR article, How Education Secretary Betsy DeVos will be remembered, journalist Cory Turner says DeVos was alternately a “hero” to “Christian conservatives” and a “ruthless villain” to his critics. During her time as education secretary, DeVos rolled back Title IX sex discrimination protections in education and removed Obama-era instructions aimed at discouraging racial disparities in school disciplinary action.

UW-Green Bay Associate Professor and American Federation of Teachers-Wisconsin Council on Higher Education Vice President Jon Shelton says choice to feature DeVos in particular is troubling without providing further context on his position of education secretary.

“DeVos should absolutely be allowed to speak on campus,” Shelton said before his appearance. “We are troubled that this conversation is proceeding without any additional perspective that may be able to contextualize DeVos’ tenure at the Department of Education.”

Shelton criticized DeVos as an inappropriate choice as education secretary due to her “heading a federal department she didn’t believe in.”

DeVos reiterated that she would dismantle the Department of Education if she regained her position.

“The Department of Education was created to advance federal support for education, on an equal footing, for every citizen of the United States,” Shelton said. “Instead, upon confirmation, she did the opposite of what she was instructed to do.”

Although he and AFT-Wisconsin do not oppose school choice, Shelton also wanted to provide additional context to the school choice programs favored by Fuller and DeVos.

Liam Beran /Advance-Titan — Betsy DeVos

“The problem is that DeVos wants to subsidize education in private schools with taxpayer dollars, undermining the principle of a common school education for all students by siphoning off money from public schools,” Shelton said. “So ‘school choice’ as she understands it is a wolf in sheep’s clothing designed to critically undermine the sustainability of an institution critical to our democracy and our public schools.”

UWO political science professor David Siemers also criticized DeVos before his appearance.

“DeVos led the charge to privatize the school, she champions for-profit education and funding public schools through voucher programs,” Siemers said. “Wisconsin has a long history of supporting public schools and understands that the state university system benefits the entire state. Secretary DeVos’ vision seems to go against that tradition.

John Erman

Jean Erdman, a retired professor from UWO’s College of Education and Human Services, also criticized DeVos and stood outside the doors of the Culver Center before and after the event holding a sign that read “We support schools public”.

“I think people need to know that she’s a fan of unconditional charters, which has the potential to kill public education,” Erdman said. “Public education brings us together and helps us learn to live together and get along. She could fund charter schools with her billion dollar checkbook if she wanted to. Taking charter school money out of public education is simply wrong.

According to a 2019 fact-checking article by The Washington Post, the Education Freedom Scholarships proposed by DeVos would require taxpayers to “assume up to $5 billion in the cost of lost revenue from the new tax credits. It means giving up revenue that could have been used to build roads or pay teachers’ salaries.

Fuller and DeVos ended the event by emphasizing the importance of sharing the debate and the different solutions.

“I’m happy to call Madam Secretary a good friend of mine, but we don’t have to agree on everything,” Fuller said. “What’s important is that we’re able to figure out some things that we agree on and that we can work to try to figure out how to get there.”


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