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Reactions to Betsy DeVos’ Confirmation as Ed. Secretary Range From Joy to Anger

By Alyson Klein & Andrew Ujifusa — February 07, 2017 1 min read
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After a long, pitched battle, Betsy DeVos is now confirmed as secretary of education. While other education secretaries provoked plenty of passion and controversy after they had served for a time—including President Ronald Reagan’s pick William J. Bennett and President Barack Obama’s choice, Arne Duncan—DeVos will start out on a more divisive note than any other leader in the agency’s more than 30-year history.

Check out these statements from organizations across the political spectrum, some of which were released just seconds after her confirmation Tuesday. They range from the press release equivalent of “woo-hooo!” to the despondent.

Who Is Thrilled?

  • Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, a Republican:

I congratulate Betsy DeVos on her confirmation as our nation’s next Secretary of Education. The President made an excellent choice to lead the Department of Education. Millions of families share Secretary DeVos’ vision for disrupting a failed status quo that has denied too many children access to a quality education. It’s time to upend the entrenched special interests that put adults above genuine reforms that will raise student achievement. ... Under Secretary DeVos’ leadership, I am confident the federal government will loosen its grip on our education system and return power to the states and parents where it rightfully belongs.

  • National Alliance for Public Charter Schools:

We believe that Secretary DeVos will put students and families first and we look forward to working with her to ensure each child has access to a high-quality public school and a safe and supportive environment in which to learn.

  • Gerard Robinson, resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and former adviser on education to President Donald Trump’s transition team

Congratulations @BetsyDeVos. Our new Secretary of @USDEducation. @VP Pence voted to make education greater for all. — Gerard Robinson (@gerard_924) February 7, 2017

  • Lindsey Burke, who heads up The Heritage Foundation’s Center for Education Policy, a conservative think tank:

DeVos’ confirmation could be good news for the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship program, which has been weakened during the Obama administration’s tenure. More than 1,100 children in the nation’s capital deserve to have choice supported and expanded.

Who Is Upset?

  • Lily Eskelsen García, president of the National Education Association:

No other Trump cabinet nominee garnered the level of public opposition as Betsy DeVos, and no other time in our nation’s history has a Vice President of the United States stepped in to cast the deciding vote on a nomination. More to the point, no nominee has united Republicans and Democrats the way DeVos has. ... The level of energy is palpable. 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.

  • Randi Weingarten, the president of the American Federation of Teachers:

DeVos’ confirmation battle has a major silver lining: The public in public education has never been more visible or more vocal, and it is not going back in the shadows. This same public—from rural towns to urban centers, from liberals to conservatives—will now serve as a check and balance, and they will be fierce fighters on behalf of children. I am honored to be a soldier in that movement for children. “It’s telling that even when Trump had full control of the legislative and executive branches, he could only get DeVos confirmed by an unprecedented tiebreaking vote by his vice president. That’s because DeVos shows an antipathy for public schools; a full-throttled embrace of private, for-profit alternatives; and a lack of basic understanding of what children need to succeed in school.”

  • Wade Henderson, president and CEO of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights:

Betsy DeVos has never been a student, parent, supporter, or employee in a public school or school system in any capacity, and yet she is now tasked with ensuring our nation’s children have equal access to a quality education. The fact that her confirmation vote was the first in American history to require a tie-breaking vote by the vice president speaks to the widespread concern about her qualifications raised by the civil rights community, concerned parents, and educators from across the country. ... Working with partners at the federal, state, and local level, we will hold this new secretary accountable to faithfully executing our nation’s education and civil rights laws.

  • John B. King Jr., incoming president and CEO of the Education Trust and President Barack Obama’s second education secretary:

During the confirmation process, I was encouraged by the large numbers of students, parents, educators, community leaders, and civil rights advocates insisting that the federal role in education must be to strengthen public education—not abandon it—and to protect students’ civil rights. Indeed, Americans clearly care deeply about education and have real concerns about who will lead the nation’s education department. “As the former secretary of education, I sincerely hope that Ms. DeVos will work hard to prove these concerns wrong and will lead the department in a manner that protects fundamental civil rights and promotes opportunity and achievement for all students.

  • Denise Marshall, executive director for the Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates (COPAA):

Today is a troubling day for our country and our children. The vote to confirm Mrs. DeVos as Secretary of Education leaves us deeply concerned about the future of our nation’s children with disabilities. In January, and throughout the process, COPAA has asked that the nominee be committed to: ensuring excellence in education for all children; safeguarding protections and enforcing state compliance and accountability in all federal education laws; combatting discrimination in voucher and charter school programs; and, curtailing the overuse of exclusionary disciplinary practices, especially seclusion, restraint. “Unfortunately, the full commitment needed is not there yet. We stand ready to help the new secretary to understand and implement her responsibilities under federal law and respect the true needs of students with disabilities and their families in every action she takes. Parents and families of students with disabilities are resilient and no strangers to doing whatever it takes to protect their children.

  • Advocates for Youth, an LGBTQ rights organization:

We are gravely disappointed that so underqualified a candidate has been confirmed as secretary of education. Quality public education can make or break whether children, teenagers, and college students succeed. Our education system goes beyond academia, affecting students’ safety, well-being, and physical and emotional health. We urge Betsy DeVos to take seriously the CDC’s alarming findings about the risk factors faced by LGBT youth, and to work to ensure they are valued and celebrated for who they are. We urge her to maintain the 2016 Title IX guidance documents that protect transgender students. We urge her to address the appalling racial disparities in education. And we urge her to continue the work that the Department of Education has done to address sexual assault on college campuses by enforcing Title IX protections. These are serious responsibilities. We only hope Betsy DeVos is up to the task.

  • Network for Public Education President Diane Ravitch

We weep for the children of America, knowing that this woman will launch an assault on their community public schools, as she did in Michigan.

Who Appears Neutral?

  • Kris Perry, executive director of the First Five Years Fund:

While the Department of Education has limited authority over early-education programs, the secretary of education is an important leader in the larger education space. The incoming secretary can prioritize the issue of early-childhood education during her tenure by raising the visibility of the issue. We look forward to working with Secretary DeVos and policymakers on all sides of the aisle to ensure families have access to high-quality early learning and care.

  • Deb Delisle, the executive director of ASCD:

We stand ready to work with Secretary DeVos and Congress as they oversee ESSA implementation with the fidelity necessary to provide an equitable, well-rounded education that ensures each student is healthy, safe, engaged, supported, and challenged. The department can be a strong partner to states and communities as they engage with students and their families.

• National PTA President Laura Bay:

In addition to investing in public education, National PTA urges Secretary DeVos to improve the Department of Education's role in advancing family engagement as a tool to increase student achievement and transform schools and communities. We strongly encourage the administration to carefully consider how family engagement can be integrated into all appropriate policy initiatives that it advances or supports."

  • Thomas J. Gentzel, Executive Director and CEO of the National School Boards Association, which has Republican, Democratic, and non-partisan members:

We must never forget how important public education is and the impact it has. ... Public education has a role in providing solutions to every important issue facing America, and it is the path to capitalize on the opportunities before us. Public schools have lifted generations of people from lower to middle income, and from middle to higher income. It will continue to do so. ... The start of the Trump administration creates an opportunity to ensure state and local governance of education, which is essential to enhance public education. School boards are best able to develop innovative solutions and make informed decisions to meet student learning objectives because of their knowledge of their schools and resources in their community.

  • Daniel A. Domenech, executive director of AASA, The School Superintendents Association:

AASA welcomes the opportunity to continue to work with Congress and the administration—including recently confirmed Secretary DeVos—to ensure that educational equity and opportunity are the reality for all our nation’s students, and that our nation’s public schools remain at the forefront of our broader conversations on education and student learning. State and local leadership is critical to the continued success and ongoing growth of our nation’s schools. We will work with the superintendents we represent and the broader education communities they serve to carry the widespread focus on and discussion about education into all aspects of our federal advocacy work.

Photo: Education Secretary-designate Betsy DeVos testifies at her confirmation hearing before the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee in January, 2017.

--Carolyn Kaster/AP-File

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