MACKINAC ISLAND, Mich. -- Betsy DeVos, the Michigan billionaire who serves as U.S. education secretary in the administration of President Donald Trump, decried the federal government's role in schools in a speech to Republican activists on Mackinac Island on Saturday.
DeVos, speaking at the Mackinac Republican Leadership Conference at the Grand Hotel, said education policy has evolved around not the interests of children and students but those of teachers unions and other adult special interests. The results, she said, have been scandalous.
"Over the past 40 years the federal government alone has invested well over $1 trillion in K-12 education," she said.
Despite that spending, the U.S. has made no progress in closing the student achievement gap with other countries and today ranks 24th in reading achievement, 25th in science and 40th in math.
"The only proposals are for more of the same -- more spending, more regulations, more government," she said.
The first school is and should be the family, she said.
DeVos, a major GOP donor and past Republican Party official, is a champion of greater school choice through charter schools and also advocates public support for parochial schools, which is prohibited under the Michigan Constitution.
She ridiculed proposals from Democratic presidential candidates for "free college," saying such plans would cost taxpayers trillions of dollars, with two-thirds of families with children who do not attend college paying for the one-third who do.
"You don't need to be an economist to understand how this is crazy," DeVos said. Quoting former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, DeVos said that "eventually ... you run out of other people's money."
Recent data from the Congressional Budget Office shows the federal deficit under Trump will hit a record $960 billion for the 2019 fiscal year and top $1 trillion in 2020. Fiscal experts have cited the Trump tax cuts as a significant reason for the spiraling deficit.