I have spent my career as a teacher. I think in lesson plans, data, and outcomes. Today the United States Senate confirmed Betsy DeVos as Secretary of the Department of Education and I’m trying to figure out what lesson has been learned. Money wins. It really is that simple. Ms. DeVos has no real experience in the field of education, unless spending millions of dollars to advocate for unregulated for-profit charter schools counts as experience in education. It is also worth noting that the DeVos family has given over $950,000 to the senators who confirmed her today and that the DeVos family gave over $8.3 million to various conservation Super PACs over the last two election cycles. Those of us who don’t find Ms. DeVos qualified had just our voices. It is estimated that our senators were receiving as many of 1.5 million calls each day regarding Ms. DeVos’s nomination. Our senators received a massive amount of emails and tweets sharing our legitimate concerns about the answers she gave in her confirmation hearings, her conflicts of interest, her agenda to divert resources from public schools to private interests, and her lack of experience with public education.
We have been told that our legislators appreciate hearing from their constituents. Never before has the public gone to such lengths to share legitimate concerns about a cabinet nominee. So, again I ask, what is the lesson that we have learned? Money wins. I have been shocked at how many of the senators who voted in favor of Ms. DeVos today went to great lengths to point out the limited scope of the Secretary of Education’s responsibilities, as if to say that it doesn’t really matter who we put in charge. Rather than trumpeting her qualifications, many of them bent over backwards to say that she is committed to enforcing federal law, as though that somehow makes her exceptional.
I try to be a glass half full guy, so here’s what I’ve got; education made the front page for a few days. Public educators (who despite our reputation for being in lockstep, often agree on very little…ever been to a faculty meeting?) have come together united in our concerns about this choice to lead the Department of Education. People who would never have considered calling a legislator’s office have made repeated calls in order for their voices to be heard.
Despite the best efforts of some to make it so, education isn’t a game of winners and losers. There were no winners today and those of us who are concerned about Ms. DeVos didn’t lose. I wrote a letter to Ms. DeVos a month ago in which I told her that those of us in public education are a little freaked out by her nomination. We’re still a little freaked out, but it would be silly to wish her anything but the best. It is important to recognize that all of us are here to serve ALL of the young people who show up every day needing a safe place to be challenged, nurtured, and supported. Our legislators didn’t listen to our voices today, but let’s hope that Ms. DeVos does.