There are an array of issues, both foreign and domestic, that Donald Trump is set to bungle catastrophically, but there is one single issue that directly affects economic opportunity for all Americans.
That issue is public education.
Trump's Education Secretary, Betsy DeVos, lacks the most basic knowledge of, expertise in, and commitment to public education. What she does have is a personal fortune she's used to underwrite propaganda and fatten the campaign accounts of Republican politicians.
In Wisconsin alone, the DeVos family doled out more than $400,000 to state legislators and Governor Scott Walker. Her shadow campaign operation, American Federation for Children, has spent at least $4.5 million to elect and solidify a Republican majority in the Wisconsin state legislature. Another $50,000 of DeVos largesse went to reelect U.S. Senator and Ayn Rand acolyte Ron Johnson.
DeVos has been a prominent proponent of failed school voucher experiments. She has long promoted policies that helped bankrupt public schools, resegregate students, and punish teachers. And now she has turned her attention to higher education, targeting the 43 million Americans carrying more than $1.4 trillion in student loan debt.
This new venture may be her undoing. And it may help bring down her boss as well.
Student debt is a significant burden on families and a serious drag on our economy. My education and research organization, One Wisconsin Institute, found that people with student loan debt are far more likely to rent versus own a home and drive a used versus new vehicle than their peers. Student loan debt also interferes with savings for retirement or a child's education.
A 2013 survey of 61,000 student loan borrowers showed that a four-year degree will take the average borrower twenty-one years to repay. Student loan debt is the second largest consumer debt in the nation, more than what's owed on credit cards or auto loans. Only mortgage debt is higher.
The crisis is multigenerational. In 2014, 155,000 people over the age of sixty-five had their Social Security payments garnished because of student loan debt. And while higher education debt further exacerbates the yawning gap between the haves and the havenots, Republican leaders have refused to move forward on common sense solutions--even those with no net cost.
Legislation championed by U.S. Representative Mark Pocan, Democrat of Wisconsin, and Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, Democrat of New York, seeks to allow student loan borrowers to refinance their federal loans. Senators Elizabeth Warren, Democrat of Massachusetts, and Tammy Baldwin, Democrat of Wisconsin, and others have put forward a similar...