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Betsy DeVos chose 'the powerful over the vulnerable’: Former Ed Secretary Arne Duncan

·4 min read

Betsy DeVos resigned from her post as Education Secretary last week following the riots at the U.S. Capitol on January 6 with just days left in the position, saying President Trump’s rhetoric was an “inflection point.” But former Education Secretary Arne Duncan says DeVos’s actions were far from heroic and that her willingness to work with President Trump reveals much about her character.

“When you work with somebody like Trump, that reveals everything about who you are and your character and your values. Cruelty to kids, cruelty to families is often the point. And what she did consistently was to choose the powerful over the vulnerable,” Duncan, who served in the Obama administration from 2009 through 2016, told Yahoo Finance.

US Secretary of Education Betsy Devos speaks during the daily briefing on the novel coronavirus, COVID-19, in the Brady Briefing Room at the White House on March 27, 2020, in Washington, DC. (Photo by JIM WATSON / AFP) (Photo by JIM WATSON/AFP via Getty Images)
US Secretary of Education Betsy Devos speaks during the daily briefing on the novel coronavirus, COVID-19, in the Brady Briefing Room at the White House on March 27, 2020, in Washington, DC. (Photo by JIM WATSON / AFP) (Photo by JIM WATSON/AFP via Getty Images)

“You can try and escape Trump, but basically, her legacy is always going to be tied to Trump. She was part of his administration for three years and 50 weeks and X number of days. That’s just until the day she dies, that’s going to be part of an important part of her legacy.”

Duncan expressed disappointment regarding her actions in higher education, including the overturning of many rules and guidance issued by his department. For instance, when the first CARES Act was unveiled, DeVos stated that DACA students, who are undocumented, would not be able to access any funds made available to students.

She also issued a controversial new regulation on how schools and universities should respond to allegations of sexual assault, replacing an Obama-era rule praised by victims’ rights groups for providing protections for assault victims.

“Those are things that hopefully the new administration will be able to overturn,” said Duncan. Far too often, Duncan said Devos’s actions, “seemed to be to inflict pain, and to be cruel to those that are most marginalized,” he added.

The priority for the next Secretary of Education, Duncan stressed, will be reopening schools amid the pandemic.

“Whether that's, you know, elementary school, middle school, whether it's high school or whether that's in higher education, that's gotta be the first thing that a Biden education team really grapples with,” he said.

“The fact that every college, every university, every school district has had to try to figure this out for themselves by themselves — it’s absolutely crazy,” he added. “The fact that we haven't had a national response, the fact that we haven't shared best practices … The lack of federal leadership ... I can't overstate how angry I am about that,” he said.

“It's not fair to families, it’s not fair to teachers, and it didn't have to be this way,” Duncan said. “This was a natural disaster and morphed into a man-made catastrophe. And it did not have to be this way.”

[Read more: How can they sleep at night?': Obama education secretary slams Trump administration's coronavirus response]

‘Tested by fire’

Duncan also commented on lessons to be learned from the riots at the U.S. Capitol.

“I just think for me the biggest lesson that I truly didn’t understand personally was how fragile our democracy is and things that all my life I just thought would be there forever, he said.”

“Democracy is a verb. You have to fight for it every day. You’d have to defend it. You have to help it grow. You have to nurture it, and seeing how dangerously close our country came to losing our democracy — it’s an unbelievably harsh lesson to learn, but also an extraordinarily important one for me.”

Duncan noted that America’s kids were watching these events and hopes that a generation of better leaders might emerge.

“I think this younger generation is going to have an understanding of things, whether it’s around public health or whether it’s around a democracy of big issues. They’re going to have an understanding of things that I couldn’t begin to have at their age. And I hate that they’ve had to learn these lessons. But my hope is that for the next 30, 40 years, the younger generation will lead our nation to a better place because they have been tested by fire because of these trials.”

Reggie Wade is a writer for Yahoo Finance. Follow him on Twitter at @ReggieWade. Aarthi Swaminathan is a senior reporter for Yahoo Finance. Follow her on Twitter at @aarthiswami.

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Aarthi Swaminathan is a reporter for Yahoo Finance, covering education. She can be reached at aarthi@yahoofinance.com. Follow her on Twitter at @aarthiswami.