Senate confirms DeVos; educators vow to continue historic advocacy, accountability

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by Tim Walker

A thousand educators, parents, students, civil rights activists and U.S. senators assembled across from the U.S. Capitol yesterday evening to urge “just one more” senator to stand up and cast the deciding ‘no’ vote on Betsy DeVos as education secretary. Coming on the eve of the confirmation vote, the rally was the final exclamation point of a nationwide mobilization against a nominee whom educators consider dangerously unqualified to lead our public schools.

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The effort to defeat DeVos went into overdrive last week when GOP Senators Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Susan Collins of Maine, due to the overwhelming response from educators, parents and community members in their states, announced they would be breaking ranks with their party.

With all 48 Democrats already united against her, DeVos was suddenly hanging by a thread. Only one more GOP vote was needed.

In the end, however, that last ‘no’ vote proved elusive. DeVos was confirmed today when Vice President Mike Pence cast a vote to break the 50-50 deadlock ─ the first time in the nation’s history this action was necessary to approve a cabinet nominee.

Despite the disappointing outcome, the mobilization against DeVos shook Capitol Hill and the White House.

Said Utah elementary school teacher and National Education Association President Lily Eskelsen García:

In my years as a public education advocate, I have never witnessed this level of public outcry. The nomination has touched a raw nerve not only with public education advocates like me but with the general public as well.

The level of engagement  ─ which ran deep and across party lines ─ was nothing short of astounding.

Educators, parents and allies sent 1.1 million letters and made more than 80,000 phone calls in four weeks, urging senators to vote no. Opposition swelled nationally, and senators reported that the three days ending last week resulted in the most calls to the Capitol switchboard in history.

 

“Americans across the nation drove a bipartisan repudiation of the Trump-DeVos agenda for students and public education,” remarked Eskelsen García after the vote. “This marks only the beginning of the resistance.”

DeVos is the first secretary of education with zero experience with public schools. She’s never been a teacher or a school administrator, nor served on any public board of education.

More disqualifying, however, is her long, well-established record of trying to dismantle the public education system she is now charged with overseeing. The billionaire DeVos family, mega political donors, has led the charge for privatization in their home state of Michigan and in other states by bankrolling multiple efforts to bring voucher schemes and unregulated charter schools.

It was DeVos’s long record of anti-public education activism that triggered swift and immediate opposition to her nomination. The already strong opposition grew into an avalanche after DeVos’s widely panned appearance before the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee. DeVos’s glaring lack of knowledge about core education issues was on full display, including unfamiliarity with the basic tenets of the Individual with Disabilities Education Act.

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“The fact that the nominee for secretary of education did not know how the federal government protects special education students is infuriating,” Henoch Hailu, an educator from Maryland, told the protesters on Monday.

DeVos also refused to rule out cutting public school funding to pay for school vouchers, and she shocked many when she hedged on upholding the 2011 Title IX guidance as it relates to sexual assault on college campuses. Her bizarre response to a question about gun violence that firearms should be allowed in schools to protect students from grizzly bears became a popular internet meme.

While the spiraling concerns over DeVos weren’t enough to deliver the 51st vote necessary to defeat the nomination, there’s little doubt that DeVos emerges weakened. As Politico reported last week:

Historically, education secretaries have seized the secretary’s bully pulpit and traveled around the nation to promote their ideas. But that may be more challenging for DeVos…. Her poor performance during her confirmation hearing reinforced concerns about her lack of conventional classroom experience and commitment to public schools.

But the confirmation battle exposed not only DeVos’s lack of qualifications and preparedness, but also her extreme ideology. As secretary of education, DeVos will for the first time face a new, previously unfamiliar constraint: accountability.

“America is speaking out. The level of energy is palpable,” said Eskelsen García. “We are going to watch what Betsy DeVos does. And we are going to hold her accountable for the actions and decisions she makes on behalf of the more than 50 million students in our nation’s public schools.”

Reader Comments

  1. It would be easy to think that all our work contacting Senators was in vain, but that’s not true.

    We sent the message loud and clear that support for public education is widespread.

    I saw that when Betsy DeVos first spoke before the professionals at the education department she said that she wanted to learn from the professionals and hear other points of view. I think she would have been much more arrogant and strident had her confirmation been easy.

    We need to keep the pressure on and keep reminding her that the vast majority of students are educated in public schools and that we expect federal support for that effort.

    1. I suppose its not even in the realm of possibility that Devos wants to hear other opinions. Why do people continually have to make up reasons and rationalize every thing they do as having a positive outcome. Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose. It really is that simple

  2. Betsy DeVos isn’t the first person in this administration who’s been handed a job (in this case, by VP Pence) he/she is unqualified to do. It all started at the top! Will we, the voters, CEASE ELECTING leaders to office who are unqualified, wealthy beyond reason, right-wing agenda-laden, out-of-touch, unworthy, dishonest, and psychologically unable to make sound decisions? This election has been extremely disheartening and frightening. But let me share a ray of hope. My state of Maine is represented in the U.S. Senate by a Republican, Susan Collins, and an Independent, Angus King. They both voted against Mrs. DeVos! I am grateful to these Senators for votes based on their views of the candidate’s ability to do the job as their constituents and they themselves would expect! We must all think long and hard about the people we elect and send to Washington! The current elected administration is an eye-opening warning and painful lesson for so very many of us. Let’s each do what we can to make sure this doesn’t happen again, by making our voices heard throughout the “reign of Trump” and at all legislative elections coming up in two years.

  3. It is frustrating to see such blatant irresponsibility on behalf of our government to work fo ALL people. The lack of any experience with public education is very disheartening for those students whom can’t afford to pay for private schools. Vouchers are not going to get them into the ~$48,000 private prep schools. There will always be socioeconomic disparity, our public education system is an assurance that everyone is afforded the opportunity to learn, black, white, girl, boy, handicapped, or immigrant. DeVos is an embarrassment to the US education system. Shame on VP Pence for only voting according to his own pro-voucher agenda.

  4. Where have you people been during the last 12 years? Betsy deVos can’t be any worse than the education leadership our students have had to endure recently. I know very little about her and cannot make a judgement; BUT, the NEA and state teachers’ organizations dropped the ball when they allowed No Child Left Behind and Common Core to be put into place. The very things you complain about YOU allowed to happen!!! Stop playing politics. I retired after 36 years in the classroom and am appalled at the deterioration of our public schools. Get the basics back. Get discipline back. We are losing many young fine teachers because of the dictates set upon them. Many people expect the school to be the parent. Wrong. Hold the parents responsible for their child. Let schools teach. Last but not least, keep cursive in the curriculum as it is a form of communication from our past. What was wrong with the math I, my husband, and our son grew up with? What is wrong knowing geography and about our world? What is wrong being involved in the Fine Arts? As for funding, all the money in our small district was taken from the gifted program and put into disabilities. . .no more gifted program. . .along with most other programs. Our district steadily went downhill as monies were given to inner city schools 40 miles away and these schools were not held accountable in any way as to how they used the millions of dollars that were given them. Stop playing the BLAME GAME with our new administration and with one another to do what is best for America’s students. If you continue to complain and blame you’d need to get another vocation.

    1. Bingo! Its unfortunate that newly minted teachers have to drink the NEA (et al) kool-aid that is fed to them. Before anyone works as a public school teacher there ought to be a requirement they work at a non-union, for profit enterprise for at least 5 years. Exposure only to only teacher organizations for a young teacher is poison.

      1. MarineBob – What’s real poison is non-educators like you who troll NEA sites sowing dissension and discontent among dedicated teachers who are in the trenches daily interacting with students. It must be a slow day at the alt. right news sites.

        1. I like when people who fancy themselves as educators dismiss anyone’s else’s view as troll like. Why do you assume I an not an educator? Sowing dissension? A more rational view might be presenting objective views of reality, not an NEA/union perverted of how the world might be if we were all socialists spending other people’s money.

          1. MarineBob – I don’t assume it. You admitted you weren’t an educator in a different thread. Or was that an “alternative fact?”

  5. “That’s the standard technique of privatization: defund, make sure things don’t work, people get angry, you hand it over to private capital.” Noam Chomsky.

  6. Mrs DeVos,will get rid of all the communists/progressives/liberals who now are in the deep crevices of the unelected education bureaucracy,making terrible education policy decisions.Their former policies caused all the problems in education and these same bureaucrats,through their candidate Clinton, claimed they could fix all the problems in education.From now on,the Department of Education will not control local school districts.No longer will decisions in education,be made by lawyers,who run the D.O.E. flow from Washington,D.C.,to local school districts.Local school districts will do just fine in all areas of education with controls from Washington,D.C.God bless Mrs DeVos.

  7. It is time for the REAL Problem of Education to be tackled and Destroyed! Greedy Educational Corporations and unethical Criminal Politicians ! Each US State spends over 500 Million dollars on Mandated Standardized Testing in which Wallstreet and Greedy Politicians have Mandated and Also directly Profit from! The Curriculum as well as the Tests themselves are Invalid and directly cause Students to be Stupid! Not Educated!
    This is a deliberately Rigged System set up to MAKE Public Schools FAIL so that the Wealthy can receive Private School Subsidies for their own Childten and Grand Childten! At the same time the system is Rigged to Fail, America’s Public School Students attend school in facilities that out to be condemned! They have no proper resources and books! Computer Technology is beyond outdated, Custodians pay for and bring their own cleaning supplies to clean school buildings, and Waste-Fraud-and Abuse of Supplies is rampant! Why do schools across the US serve substandard food to our children? So that Sysco Industries can make Billions of dollars while we poison our children!

  8. If here were so many of us against her approval and we voiced these opinions to our Congress representatives, WHY was she voted in? I still don’t get it!

    1. MONEY!!! MONEY!!! MONEY!!!
      These politicians don’t care about representing the public.
      They represent their big money donors and to hell with thed rest of us!

    2. Liz – Democrats are a 48-52 minority in the Senate right now. In order to stop the DeVo’s nomination it meant changing the minds of a least three Republican senators to make it a 51-49 vote. Two Republican senators decided to vote against their party but not a third, so the Vice President cast the tie-breaking vote and DeVo’s was confirmed.

      I’m sure there were other Republicans who felt she was unqualified but were too afraid to contradict the President. Given Trump’s tendency to bully anyone that displeases him, I’m sure some Senators were worried of becoming a target of their President and/or their base.

    3. Gee whiz. Seems like the people who got voted into office (I believe the senate is majority popular vote) want this woman. Funny how the elections are fine when your person gets in but not so good when the other side wins. Neither ‘side’ is all right or all wrong. To think other wise is absurdity. So when the majority as many here describe as democracy win the day, its a disaster if that majority is not their ‘side’. Go get a coloring book and get over it.

      1. MarineBob – Oh I’m certain MOST Republican senators wanted her! Especially since DeVo’s and her family contributed almost a million dollars total to 21 of the Republican senators who voted in favor of her confirmation. She had the best Senate that money can buy!! I’m so happy our new President is draining the swamp by picking cabinet members who don’t engage in “pay to play.”

          1. MarineBob – Hillary made no such campaign promise. Your President-elect did and it’s his watch now. Time to own it.

  9. I hold Pence responsible for the failure of education. He alone had the ability to listen to the people and cast his vote ethically. Instead he chose to, once again support the billionaire cronies that are bent on overtaking our democracy and create a dictatorship.

    1. Mike Pence said that the vote to confirm Betsy DeVos was the easiest vote he ever cast.

      I know he is a fan of charters and vouchers, but making that comment was an insult to the millions of people who wrote to their Senators expressing opposition to confirmation.

  10. It is a sad day when the candidate openly said that she gave money to the Republican candidates and campaign fully expecting something in return. Great job Mrs DeVos at buying a position in the government to promote your non inclusive agenda. I am hoping that the millions who voiced their opinion against her confirmation is enough to weaken her agenda within the education department.

  11. I have taught for 39 years and I have seen reforms cycle in and out, but his is just insane! Betsy DeVos isn’t QUALIFIED to hold the position to be the head of the Department of Education. Weren’t people listening to what she did in Michigan??? I guess ,”Money Speaks,” in Trump and the Republicans World.

    My worry is that she won’t pay attention to the Constitution and the separation of church and state. She won’t fund programs for the gifted and those with disabilities. Will censor textbooks and curriculum materials. Are we going to be moving backwards????

    1. Makes sense to guess and prejudge, doesn’t it ? I suppose that is a logical approach rather than attempting to objectively observe what happens. I will be curious to see how many text books she censors?

      And why can anyone presume this woman will not pay attention to the constitution? I will assume those who think the constitution ought to be interpreted differently from time to time will find fault while those who believe it is a static, inviolate document will see things otherwise.

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