The taxes on the Seaquest, just one of the DeVos family’s 10 yachts, would bring more than $2 million a year to Michigan.
MICHIGAN — Health professionals in schools are more needed than ever during the pandemic. But Michigan school nurses each serve an average of well over 6,000 students.
Schools have been critically underfunded for decades, explained East China School District teacher Kimberly Eberhard. And that underfunding has had consequences in preparing for the pandemic.
“Education has been neglected for decades and now everyone will discover how bad it has been,” said Eberhard.
And school nurses are one of those underfunded areas. That has something to do with the priorities of America’s chief education official.
Education Secretary Betsy DeVos has used her position to promote privatization of schools, and in particular charter schools, with taxpayer dollars. As The ‘Gander has reported, money intended for public schools’ coronavirus relief was funneled into private schools by DeVos.
A new report by watchdog group Checks and Balances shows DeVos hasn’t paid as much of that tax money as she should’ve, despite directing it away from public schools.
The fact that DeVos’ yacht, Seaquest, flies a Cayman Islands flag to avoid Michigan taxes isn’t a recent revelation. Newsweek reported on it in 2018. But Checks and Balances calculated the amount of money that DeVos has dodged, and compared it to a critical piece of education in 2020 — school nurses.
By registering their $40 million yacht in the Cayman islands, the DeVos family evades more than $2 million in Michigan taxes annually, Checks and Balances found. That would cover the annual salaries of 40 school nurses, which at the current nurse-to-student ratio would mean medical professionals available for hundreds of thousands of Michigan children.
“Whether the DeVos’s alleged $2.4M tax avoidance for the Seaquest is legal or not, it appears to be squarely in the middle of an ethical red zone,” said Scott Peterson, executive director of Checks and Balances. “It seems pretty tough to justify a billionaire secretary of education hurting school kids through her family’s alleged tax avoidance.”
Nationally, fewer than 40% of schools have a nurse, reports the New York Times. And school nurses are essential to resuming in-person instruction. The American Academy of Pediatrics found that to be insufficient even before the pandemic, saying every single school should have a nurse. Now, with their role even more important, that lack of nurses is a risk to students.
“I’ll have to go to these schools and assess every sniffle and sneeze that could potentially be a positive case,” Janna Benzel told the Times. “I just don’t know if I can do it alone.”
Benzel is a nurse in Washington State, where she serves less than a third of the students an average Michigan nurse does.
Despite this reality, DeVos wanted all schools, nationwide, to resume full in-person instruction this fall, without that critical health professional on staff in most of America’s schools and with the few school nurses that exist being overburdened.