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By Amanda Litvinov
The tide is rising against billionaire anti-public school crusader Betsy DeVos serving as the U.S. Secretary of Education–particularly following her following her awkward-at-best Senate hearing earlier this month.
Teachers and education support professionals have taken the lead in voicing their concerns and showing their opposition to her nomination. Educators across the country wore red on January 17 in protest. The same day, Sarah Vigrass, an NEA member working at a publicly funded online charter school, spoke at a press conference called by Senate Democratic leaders (pictured above).
“For the past ten years I have worked at California Virtual Academies, an online, publicly funded charter school. Our curriculum, technology, training, and management are provided by K12 Inc., a for profit education company. Betsy DeVos and her family were early investors in K12 Inc.,” Vigrass explained.
“What I have witnessed with my school has me deeply concerned about what an education department led by Betsy DeVos will mean for students,” Vigrass said. “The involvement of for-profit companies in public education is very problematic. Education should be focused solely on students—and their best interests. Schools like mine, however, are serving a second master, executives and shareholders who view kids not as tomorrow’s leaders and professionals but as today’s revenue. When shareholders are prioritized over the needs of our students, kids lose.”
DeVos’s Senate confirmation hearing later that day confirmed what Vigrass and other educators and parents have been saying: That DeVos’s lack of knowledge about public education and the needs of students and her support for voucher schemes and corporate charter schools make her a dangerous choice.
In their own words, here are other educators’ concerns:
I am a special education teacher in a Title I school in Oakland, California. Teachers here face a lack of support, resources, and basic supplies on a daily basis. Our students face many challenges, but they love to learn, and we love to teach. We are proud of the work that we do with students and families, so we will not let your lack of respect for public education discourage us, Ms. DeVos. We will continue to organize and fight for the schools our students deserve.
–Bethany Meyer, special education teacher, California
I have been a public school teacher for the past 30 years. I have taught exclusively in low income, urban schools (average free lunch rate 98%) around the state. I know that for most of my students, whose parents work two or three minimum wage jobs, public education is their only hope. Their parents don’t have the ability to transport them to charter schools. Most of the charter schools in my area employ college graduates with little or no education experience, who generally last only one or two years in the classroom. I will not allow Betsy DeVos to destroy the public schools in my state!
–Dr. Carol Wilcox, teacher, Colorado
As an educational consultant, I have served hundreds of school districts. Without exception, voucher schools lag far behind our public schools in training, dedication, and service to children and families. Their facilities and staff are abysmal–old, and dilapidated for the facilities, and extremely young and inexperienced for the faculties and staff. I cannot support vouchers in any way–especially without constant vigilance. I oppose your appointment on these grounds.
–Jacquelyn Drummer, educational consultant, Wisconsin
I teach English in a public high school where more than 65% of students are military kids who have lived around the nation and the world. If you could witness the way these students come together and interact to enrich my class and enhance the vibrancy of our school through clubs, the arts, athletics, and community service, you would understand how a free, open education that accepts all students for the betterment of our nation truly operates. Your money cannot begin to match the value of such a transformational experience, and to think that your aim is to squeeze the life out of our public schools is unconscionable.
–Michael Struchen, high school English teacher, New York
I teach at a Title I elementary school that provides our students with some of the best teachers, methods, resources, and technology that any school–public or private–can offer. Nearly all of our students qualify for free or reduced lunch, and we have a significant English learner population. Ms. DeVos, your agenda regarding vouchers and privatizing our public school system is neither warranted nor wanted. Please visit our classrooms and educate yourself regarding the needs of our children. We serve children from extreme poverty, single parent or no parent homes, and those with special needs. Vouchers and charter schools will not change the circumstances that children come from and the challenges they bring with them to school. Privatization will only accomplish further depletion of public school funding.
–Julianna Mann, teacher, Alabama