By Nellie Ferguson
The new U.S. Secretary of Education financially backed Neurocore, a company that advertises help for children and adults with concussions, depression, migraines, ADHD and autism, from 2008 to 2017.
Help for all of these conditions lies in simple 30-45 minute sessions at a Neurocore facility. Several are in Betsy DeVos’ home state of Michigan, one is in Florida, and the company is looking to expand further. According to Dr. Majid Fotuhi, Neurocore chief medical officer, the next step is to start 12-week boot camps to help the elderly with their memory issues.
Sandra K. Loo, director of pediatric neuropsychology at the David Geffen School of Medicine at the University of California-Los Angeles, noted in the New York Times that “(the treatments) aren’t shown to be better than placebo, and the effects are not long-lasting.” And in reference to parents of children with conditions like attention deficit disorder, “People pay a ton of money. They’re desperate to help their kids. Many are desperate to not give medications.”
In a standard session that can cost $2,000, clients with conditions as serious as autism are treated by watching television.
Some watch “Mad Men.” Others watch “Frozen.” Whatever movie or TV show the clients watch, sensors are attached to their scalps and earlobes by low-paid technicians who receive little training. When the client’s attention lapses, the video stops, and only starts up again when they resume watching it, and paying attention.
Many insurance companies will not cover this treatment for their clients. A 50-year-old woman who wanted the treatment for her anxiety and migraines was denied coverage for the experimental treatments. The Michigan insurance department commissioned an outside review, and it was determined that biofeedback was not an established therapy or medically necessary.
Fotuhi is an entrepreneur in the field of “brain fitness.” He founded the NeurExpand Brain Center in 2011, which closed after only four years when Medicare stopped funding its treatments. According to Fotuhi, Medicaid was seeking reimbursement for previous payments.
One Neurocore technician, Bashar Salah, was quoted in the New York Times on his work for Neurocore. He had just graduated from college, and said some of his colleagues at Neurocore were still students. His pay was $10 or $11 an hour, and he stated it was “better than working at McDonald’s or Wendy’s, or a lot of other places that paid roughly minimum wage.”
At Neurocore facilities, there are no physicians; social workers conduct the treatments.
Upon being confirmed as the U.S. Secretary of Education with a tie-breaking vote by Vice President Mike Pence, DeVos’s total investment in the company is estimated to be worth as much as $25 million. Our new education secretary financially backed a company that charged the parents of depressed children, autistic children and children with ADHD $2,000 for brain training sessions that they are told will help their children, sessions that are backed by no evidence or clinical trials.
It is easy to focus on the gaping hole where DeVos’s experience in public education should be, because her experience in fake education or “brain fitness,” is so rich. Public education should be DeVos’s primary concern.
As Senator Elizabeth Warren pointed out during DeVos’s confirmation hearing, DeVos has never had any experience borrowing money to go to college, and neither have her children. She has never attended a public school, and neither have her children. Her support of charter schools is not only elitist, but fruitless. It’s stated in the Huffington Post that half of Michigan’s charter schools rank in the bottom quarter of all public schools for academic performance, according to state accountability data from 2013-14.
In 1997, DeVos wrote in Roll Call, a publication covering Congress, that, “My family is the biggest contributor of soft money to the Republican National Committee. I have decided to stop taking offense at the suggestion that we are buying influence. Now I simply concede the point.
“They are right. We do expect something in return. We expect to foster a conservative governing philosophy consisting of limited government and respect for traditional American virtues. We expect a return investment.”
The DeVos family contributed to Reagan’s election heavily in 1980, and Richard DeVos was named the finance chair of the Republican National Committee. He was removed two years later after calling the 1982 recession “a cleansing process.” He stated that anyone who was unemployed did not want work.
Despite this incident and others, the DeVos family has remained a significant political force. Saul Anuzis, a former chairman of the Michigan Republican Party, told Mother Jones in 2014, “There’s not a Republican president or presidential candidate in the last 50 years who hasn’t known the DeVoses.”
CBS News estimates seven of Trump’s cabinet picks, including DeVos, to be worth a combined $11 billion. Trump claimed he was going to “drain the swamp.” If his goal was to get rid of corruption, hiring a menagerie of billionaire Washington insiders is about 10,000 steps in the wrong direction.
Trump, a president who calls Mexicans rapists, selected her. Pence, a vice president who believes gay people should be “converted,” cast the tie-breaking vote to confirm her.
The DeVos family has lined the pockets of politicians for generations, and Betsy DeVos herself has repeatedly put her faith — and her cash — into charter schools, which have been proven ineffective. Given her donation history to private Christian schools, the separation of church and state is not high on DeVos’s priority list. Still, it’s clear that in her time as the U.S. Secretary of Education, she will serve only one god: