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Connecticut educators are voicing opposition to Betsy DeVos’ nomination for secretary of education, citing her inexperience with education policy, support of private schools and endorsement of school vouchers.
The Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions approved DeVos’ nomination on Tuesday. Her nomination will now go to the Senate floor for approval.
But Alicia Caraballo, a former member of the New Haven Board of Education, expressed concern over DeVos’ qualifications for the position, noting that DeVos has never had any administrative experience in the public school system. Also because neither DeVos nor her children ever attended public school, Caraballo doubted that DeVos would be an advocate for “all of education.” DeVos has also already openly opposed public schools, Caraballo said.
“[It’s] not to say that there aren’t many concerns and problems with public education, just as there are with charter schools,” Caraballo said. “We have the good and the bad and the ugly. But, [we should] at least have someone who feels at least a commitment to make that system better. Someone who gives her dollars … against [public education] should not be the secretary of education for this country.”
DeVos has supported private and charter schools in her home state of Michigan for decades, and the philanthropic Dick and Betsy DeVos Family Foundation has donated millions of dollars to both. In 2000, she founded the Great Lakes Education Project, a nonprofit organization that advocates for school choice. Later, in 2010, she created and chaired the American Federation for Children, which has donated millions of dollars to political candidates who favor school vouchers.
DeVos has also endorsed school vouchers, which would allocate federal funds to low-income families so that their children can attend a private school of their choice. Caraballo expressed doubts that such a program would work effectively, noting that for certain families, the vouchers are unlikely to cover all private school expenses.
Nicholas Perrone, assistant principal at Wexler-Grant Community School, shared Caraballo’s concerns. He argued that such funds should be directed to improving the quality of public schools.
Ted Goerner, president of the West Hartford Education Association and a teacher at Sedgwick Middle School, also criticized DeVos’ support for vouchers. He argued that, since vouchers weaken the public school system while strengthening the private school system, they are “inherently unfair” as the two education systems do not operate on the same playing field.
“Our biggest concern is when public tax dollars flow into private schools, because private schools do not have to adhere to the same rules and regulations that public schools do,” Goerner said. “Without oversight, without good regulation, you have a formula for waste, fraud and abuse.”
Goerner noted that private schools tends to pay less for teachers than public schools do and as a result have less experienced instructors and a higher turnover rate than their public school counterparts.
Gladis Kersaint, the dean of the Neag School of Education at the University of Connecticut, agreed, noting that the Department of Education plays an important role in ensuring access and equity to high quality education for students. The federal government should not cede too much power to the states, she said.
Dianna Wentzell, the Connecticut education commissioner, expressed her hope that DeVos, if confirmed, would “lead the Department of Education in a way that values the power of public education to change lives.” Wentzell also supported accountability as an important strategy for securing equal access to high-quality education for all students.
According to Goerner, the West Hartford Education Association has mobilized against DeVos by “getting the word out and contacting legislatures.” Members have called and emailed Sens. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., and Richard Blumenthal LAW ’73, D-Conn., who have committed to voting against DeVos.
Arne Duncan previously served as secretary of education.