Donald Trump’s selection for Secretary of Education, billionaire voucher advocate Betsy DeVos, has made her imprint on policy through large donations to extremist conservative groups, including the Acton Institute for the Study of Religion and Liberty.
In addition to being a donor, DeVos has served on Acton’s Board of Directors for 10 years. The Institute is a non-profit research organization “dedicated to the study of free-market economics informed by religious faith and moral absolutes.”
In a recent blog post, an Acton Institute writer and project coordinator showed his dedication to something else: child labor.
The post’s author, Joseph Sunde, argues that work is a “gift” that we are denying American children. After all, Sunde concludes, the child laborers of America’s past were “actively building enterprises and cities” and “using their gifts to serve their communities.”
Some especially disturbing highlights from Sunde’s piece:
In our policy and governing institutions, what if we put power back in the hands of parents and kids, dismantling the range of excessive legal restrictions, minimum wage fixings, and regulations that lead our children to work less and work later?
Let us not just teach our children to play hard and study well, shuffling them through a long line of hobbies and electives and educational activities. A long day’s work and a load of sweat have plenty to teach as well.
The piece was originally titled “Bring Back Child Labor: Work is a Gift Our Kids Can Handle,” but Sunde removed “Bring Back Child Labor” after receiving public criticism. When the Huffington Post wrote about Sunde’s piece in November, the Trump transition team did not answer their request for a comment.
Long hours of regular work can harm children’s social and emotional development. According to the Child Labor Public Education Project, adolescents who work more than 20 hours per week have reported more problem behaviors, such as aggression, misconduct, and substance use. These students also report more sleep deprivation, and are more likely to drop out of school and complete fewer months of higher education.
It should come as no surprise that the Acton Institute appears on the DeVos philanthropic roster. Over the years, Dick and Betsy DeVos have funded a host of conservative, religious causes, including opposition same-sex marriage laws in several states and groups that push “conversion therapy.” What’s more, the entire DeVos family, including Amway co-founder Richard DeVos Sr., has given more than $17 million to conservative political candidates and political committees since 1989. More than half of that giving — nearly $10 million — occurred within the last two years. The DeVos name regularly appears on lists of attendees at donor summits hosted by Charles and David Koch.
There’s no doubt that Betsy DeVos has personally funded several groups that push an aggressive anti-public education agenda, as well. DeVos is a staunch believer in vouchers, which allow families to send their child to private (often religious) schools using government funding. When referring to the role that she and her husband play in education, DeVos has proclaimed, “our desire is to confront the culture in ways that will continue to advance God’s Kingdom.”
She has yet to say publicly whether children work in the Kingdom.
Annette Konoske-Graf is a Policy Analyst with the K-12 Education team at the Center for American Progress. ThinkProgress is an editorially independent news site housed at the Center for American Progress.