Wanted: One More GOP Senator To Defeat Nominee Betsy DeVos
This article has been updated with new information; read it at this link.
The nomination of Betsy DeVos for Secretary of the Department of Education has been roundly denounced. Education experts are just one group that is concerned that the billionaire political donor has zero experience with public education, is a promoter of charter schools, and would like to redirect public funds to private schools.
Now the many naysayers have been joined by two renegade GOP senators who announced they will not vote for DeVos. A big reason is an avalanche of concerned feedback from their constituents. The two are Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) and Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine).
Murkowski was the target of a campaign by Great Alaska Schools — a statewide coalition of those concerned about the quality of education in the state. The group mobilized teachers, students, and parents very effectively, using this statement as their main argument:
Her myopic focus on working to move public school funding to private, for-profit and religious schools is not where attention needs to be focused at the federal level.
That ‘myopic focus’ is, of course, the conservative agenda — to privatize education. But Alaska isn’t having it, if they can help it.
In announcing that she had changed her mind on Betsy DeVos, Murkowski said:
I have heard from thousands, truly, thousands of Alaskans who have shared their concerns about Mrs. DeVos.
They just didn’t give up. Even after Murkowski voted in committee to advance DeVos’ nomination, educators urged voters to keep contacting the senator. Staffers in Murkowski’s office estimated that 30,000 calls had come in over a week’s time, leading the senator to say:
It’s just been overwhelming. We’ve never seen a level of calls like this ever.
So overwhelming that she has switched her position for the final vote, yet to come.
On Wednesday, Sen. Collins explained her concerns about DeVos in a speech on the Senate floor. She said:
DeVos’ lack of experience with public schools will make it difficult for her to understand, identify and assist with those challenges, particularly for our rural schools in states like Maine…
She appears to view education through the lens of her experience of promoting alternatives to public education in Detroit and other cities where she has, no doubt, done valuable work.
Yeah. No doubt. That caveat certainly isn’t the reason that the Maine Education Association — 23,500 members strong — expressed gratitude for Collins position. The union is made up of public school teachers. Union president, Lois Kilby-Chesley, issued this written statement:
It is refreshing to see a lawmaker who is willing to listen to educators, the experts in the classroom, when it comes to key decisions concerning our students and the profession. MEA members can only be hopeful that more Republican leaders will follow in the footsteps of U.S. Sen. Susan Collins.
Everyone in the nation who is concerned about public education — the means of learning for the vast majority of American children — wishes for the same thing. The Senate has 52 Republicans and 48 Democrats, or members who caucus with the Democrats. If the Democratic caucus holds firm, the vote on DeVos stands at 50-50.
That figure still means DeVos will win confirmation. Ties are broken by Vice President Mike Pence. There’s no mystery about which way he’ll vote. So — make that 51-50 for the final outcome, unless one more Republican with a conscience (I know, I know) breaks ranks.
While the vote could come on Friday, Democrats are planning on using tactics that will delay it until at least the weekend, or into next week. That gives constituents time to pressure their GOP senators to stand up for public education and vote against Betsy DeVos.
Delaying tactics also mean that Sen. Jeff Sessions’ confirmation vote for Attorney General will be delayed. If he is confirmed before DeVos, his vote won’t count. Republicans are sure to mind their scheduling so that doesn’t happen.
Who especially needs to turn the heat up under their senators? Education Week proposed that rural, anti-voucher Republicans could most easily be influenced to change their vote. Out of the four that the publication named, only one had not declared their intention to vote for Betsy DeVos, as of Thursday night — Sen. Deb Fischer of Nebraska.
Fischer’s statements have been mixed. On one hand, she proclaimed herself a ‘strong supporter’ of public education and said she breaks with her party on vouchers. On the other hand, she was positive about DeVos’ statements that states and localities should be ‘responsible’ for educating their children.
Any Republican would take that position. It’s hardly a compelling reason to vote for a flawed nominee. Fischer has heard from ‘many’ educators who are opposed to the nomination. She needs to hear from many more, including parents, students, and other concerned citizens.
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