The fight over the future of public education in America moves to the full Senate, as Betsy DeVos’s nomination for Secretary of Education passes out of committee

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The above photo was taken by my friend Al Hoff today outside an elementary school in Pittsburg. While I imagine it’s possible that someone could have hung the flag upside down by mistake, I suspect it probably has something to do with what’s happening right now in Washington relative to public education. [The upside down American flag, for the non-Eagle Scouts in the audience, is an officially recognized signal of distress.] As you’ve probably heard by now, the members of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions voted 12 to 11 along party lines to accept Trump’s controversial nomination of Amway billionaire Betsy DeVos for Secretary of Education. This, it should be noted, happened in spite of the fact that DeVos has multiple conflicts of interest, appears to have plagiarized many of her answers to the questions posed by committee members, defended the presence of guns in schools [because, you know, “grizzly bears”], has no relevant experience in public education, and refuses to say that charter schools should be held to the same standard as public schools.

In spite of all this, though, the 12 Republicans on the committee voted to send DeVos before the full Senate for final approval. It should be noted, however, that some did so with reservations. “Two Republicans, Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska),” according to the Washington Post, “made clear that they have not yet decided how they will vote on the floor, suggesting that DeVos’s confirmation is not yet assured.”

Yesterday, in Anchorage, over 200 people filled the office of Senator Murkowski, a former PTA president, demanding that she vote no against DeVos, who has made it her life’s work to weaken public education, which she sees as promoting ideas antithetical to her conservative Christian values. According to the Alaska Dispatch News, “In total, (Murkowski’s) staff estimated that about 30,000 calls came into the office over the last week, but it was impossible to break down how many calls came from Alaskans and how many from residents of other states.” “It’s just been overwhelming,” Murkowski said. “We’ve never seen a level of calls like this ever.” Apparently it wasn’t enough, though, to get her to kill DeVos’s nomination in committee, but maybe she’ll vote no when it comes to the floor of the Senate, if the pressure from public education advocates in Alaska continues to build. And I have to think that other Republican Senators, if confronted by the same kind of unprecedented response from their constituents, might do the same.

As of right now, the United States Senate has 52 Republicans, 46 Democrats, and 2 Independents, both of whom caucus with the Democrats. Assuming the Democrats and Independents all vote against DeVos, that means we’d need Murkowski, Collins and one other Republican to vote against her in order to keep her from becoming Secretary of Education. As both of our Senators in Michigan have said that they intend to vote against DeVos, I’d encourage you, if you’d like to keep her off the President’s cabinet, to focus instead on your friends and relatives in other states, especially red states, encouraging them to call their Senators. Republicans like Murkowski and Collins have to hear from people who value public education, and are rightly concerned about how DeVos, an anti-public education activist, would lead the Department of Education.

FIND YOUR SENATORS’ PHONE NUMBERS HERE.

If you’ve never called the offices of your Senators. It’s easy. All you have to do it call their office closest to you and tell them clearly how you would like your Senator to vote. Here, if it will help, is a simple script that you can follow.

“Hello. I am a registered [insert your state] voter, and I would like for Senator [insert last name] to oppose the confirmation of Betsy DeVos for Secretary of Education. I feel very strongly that she would be terrible for the children and families of our state, and you can be sure that I will remember how Senator [insure last name] voted come reelection time.”

Here, in case anyone out there is unconvinced as to just how bad DeVos would be as Secretary of Education, is an excerpt from something that I posted just after Trump nominated her for the position. [Read the whole post here.]

…While DeVos has absolutely no qualifications for the job, she does have money, and she’s proven again and again that she’ll use it to get what she wants. As she said in a 1997 op-ed for the Capitol Hill newspaper Roll Call, “My family is the biggest contributor of soft money to the Republican National Committee.” She then when on to add, “I have decided to stop taking offense at the suggestion that we are buying influence. Now I simply concede the point. They are right. We do expect something in return. We expect to foster a conservative governing philosophy consisting of limited government and respect for traditional American virtues. We expect a return on our investment.” And, with this as her objective, DeVos, with her $5.1 billion net worth behind her, has wreaked havoc in Michigan, funding successful legislative efforts to efforts to, among other things, “restore religious freedom” by keeping gay couples from adopting and stop Michigan cities from passing living wage ordinances. But her real passion is in the realm of education reform, where she’s worked tirelessly to ensure that Michigan is the most anti-public education state in the union, funding campaigns to remove all caps on charter schools, while, at the same time, guaranteeing virtually no oversight.

Lily Eskelsen García, president of the National Education Association, said of DeVos yesterday: “Her efforts over the years have done more to undermine public education than support students. She has lobbied for failed schemes, like vouchers – which take away funding and local control from our public schools – to fund private schools at taxpayers’ expense. These schemes do nothing to help our most vulnerable students while they ignore or exacerbate glaring opportunity gaps.

“She has consistently pushed a corporate agenda to privatize, de-professionalize and impose cookie-cutter solutions to public education,” Eskelsen García went on to say. “By nominating Betsy DeVos, the Trump administration has demonstrated just how out of touch it is with what works best for students, parents, educators and communities.”

And, for what it’s worth, Eskelsen García isn’t employing hyperbole here. Those of us who live in Michigan have seen it play out firsthand. We’ve seen the ubiquitous billboards for fly-by-night virtual charters offering to educate our kids over the internet. [They give kids laptops and access to an online platform, and just collect the money from the state that would have otherwise directed to a public school.] And we’ve seen our school districts closing once vital neighborhood schools right and left due to the unchecked proliferation of charter schools and a “schools of choice” system that pits neighboring districts against one another, fighting over those “good” students who don’t require things like special education, which can be costly.

They’ve been assuring us for the past 20 years that this unfettered competition will yield better opportunities for our students, but the results just don’t bear that out. [More on that in a minute.] I’d argue, however, that better schools were never the end goal. I think, from day one, the real objective has always been to kill the teachers unions, while, at the same time, funneling public money into the hands of private corporations, which, in turn, contribute to conservative causes and legislators. And, it’s working. While I don’t have current data, between 2012 and 2015, Michigan’s two teachers unions, the MEA and the AFT, lost almost 28,000 members. And, in large part that’s due to the overwhelming growth of the charter school industry, which, according to the Detroit Free Press, “Michigan taxpayers pour nearly $1 billion a year into.” [] More importantly, though, these programs pushed by DeVos and others, just aren’t working for kids.

A recent investigation by the Detroit Free Press, which looked at two decades of charter school records and data from across Michigan, found: “Wasteful spending and double-dipping. Board members, school founders and employees steering lucrative deals to themselves or insiders. Schools allowed to operate for years despite poor academic records. No state standards for who operates charter schools or how to oversee them. And a record number of charter schools run by for-profit companies that rake in taxpayer money and refuse to detail how they spend it, saying they’re private and not subject to disclosure laws. Michigan leads the nation in schools run by for-profits.” And much of the blame lies with DeVos, who not only led, but funded, the charge.

Here, from Chalkbeat, is a great example of DeVos in action: “When Michigan lawmakers this year were considering a measure that would have added oversight for charter schools in Detroit, members of the DeVos family poured $1.45 million into legislators’ campaign coffers — an average of $25,000 a day for seven weeks. Oversight was not included in the final legislation.”

And, that, my friends, is the kind of maneuvering on behalf of the for-profit charter industry that you can expect to see happening across the United States, assuming DeVos is confirmed as Trump’s Secretary of Education… I’m not sure what she paid for cabinet post, but you can be damn sure she’s going to see a return on that investment…

So, if you think public education should be strengthened, and not dismantled, call your Senators. And tell everyone you know do to the same. Otherwise, it looks like DeVos will have succeeded in purchasing a Cabinet seat in order to pursue an agenda of closing public schools to, in the words of her husband, “advance God’s kingdom” on earth. [She and her husband Dick, as you may recall, can be heard on audio bemoaning the fact that public schools have become the centers of our local communities, replacing the church, and saying that’s what drives their anti-public school activism.]

OK, so assuming you’re with me, what else can we do, once we call our Senators? Should we visit the local offices of our Senators in person? Should we call for a general strike across the country? Should we join hands and surround our local public schools as a sign of solidarity? What? I’m open to your ideas.

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20 Comments

  1. Erin
    Posted February 1, 2017 at 8:39 am | Permalink

    When will the Senate vote occur?

  2. M
    Posted February 1, 2017 at 9:49 am | Permalink

    It’s not directly tied to the DeVos nomination, but there’s talk of a general strike on February 17, the Friday before President’s Day.

    #nationalstrike against the presidency of Donald Trump.

    https://mic.com/articles/167192/general-strike-feb-17-what-will-happen-if-activists-stage-a-nationwide-strike-against-trump#.jpjLesPQJ

  3. Jim Suchy
    Posted February 1, 2017 at 9:53 am | Permalink

    You and I agree on this. She is a train wreck.

  4. Meta
    Posted February 1, 2017 at 10:04 am | Permalink

    Chicago Tribune: “Think the liberal protests are big? Just wait.”

    …..Most of the anti-Trump protests so far have been over symbolism and omens.

    So just imagine what’s going to happen if or when the largely hypothetical becomes real and the abstract becomes personal.

    •If or when the numbers of people turned away from our borders, detained or deported grows from the hundreds into the tens of thousands.

    •If or when millions of people lose their health insurance policies after Obamacare is repealed.

    •If or when Roe v. Wade is overturned and states begin outlawing abortion.

    •If or when we begin to go backward on LGBTQ rights and anti-gay discrimination is enshrined as a religious right.

    •If or when prices or taxes rise to pay for an unnecessary border wall between the U.S. and Mexico and for Trump’s misbegotten trade wars.

    •If or when public education begins to disappear in major urban centers.

    •If or when strict voter-ID laws, with their racially discriminatory effects, sweep the red states.

    If any of the above hypotheticals become reality, these recent protests will seem quaint in comparison.

    I wouldn’t go so far as to call this the Liberal Spring, but make no mistake: After eight, sleepy, nearly torpid years of hoping that President Barack Obama and his wealthiest supporters would protect their interests, members of the left — progressives, Democrats — have awakened with a roar.

    Critics complained that the Women’s March on Washington was incoherent and diffuse, an airing of various concerns without an identifiable set of demands. Actually, though, the message of those rallies was quite clear: We’re not cowering in the face of the Trump agenda. We’re determined, we’re energized and when Trump crosses the line, we’ll be right back out here with demonstrations that’ll make those tea party rallies of 2010 look like Tuesday morning gatherings at the dog park.

    Don’t miss the idealism. Many of the marchers, like many of the airport protesters, don’t feel directly threatened by Trumpism. They’re straight, white people of some means who have decent health insurance and probably won’t be alive long enough to be mortally sickened by the poisonous air and water in a deregulated America.

    These protesters organized, made signs, traveled and took time out of their lives to make a show of their beliefs on behalf of others now that they’ve been poked by Trump’s statements and his early moves in the White House.

    After ineptly playing defense and squabbling internally during Obama’s two terms, the left is back on offense, angry and activated.

    The evidence is not just in the crowds and first-time protesters. The American Civil Liberties Union reported taking in $24.2 million in online donations over the weekend, more than six times the total of online donations the organization usually gets in an entire year!

    And the real action, the real outrages, haven’t even really started.

    Trump likes to talk about leading a “movement” because he galvanized just enough disillusioned, credulous voters to eke out a victory in the Electoral College over an opponent nearly as unpopular as he is.

    But he’s about to see what a real movement looks like.

    Read more:
    http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/opinion/zorn/ct-anti-trump-liberal-protests-perspec-zorn-0131-20170130-column.html

  5. Kim
    Posted February 1, 2017 at 10:08 am | Permalink

    Murkowski has no spine. She essentially said that she knew DeVos was a horrid choice, but she voted for her anyway. Her constituents should vote her out of office the first opportunity they get. Disgraceful.

  6. E.C.
    Posted February 1, 2017 at 10:13 am | Permalink

    I feel like buying a flag just for this purpose.

  7. Laenne
    Posted February 1, 2017 at 10:16 am | Permalink

    Thanks for posting. I’m gonna activate my Alaska network.

  8. Eel
    Posted February 1, 2017 at 10:44 am | Permalink

    It’s not only K-12 that we need to be concerned about. Did you happen to see this in the Chronicle of Higher Education?

    http://www.chronicle.com/article/Jerry-Falwell-Jr-Says-He-Will/239062/

    “Jerry L. Falwell Jr., president of Liberty University, has been asked by President Trump to head up a new task force that will identify changes that should be made to the U.S. Department of Education’s policies and procedures, Mr. Falwell told The Chronicle on Tuesday.”

    This is really happening.

  9. facebook stalker
    Posted February 1, 2017 at 11:13 am | Permalink

    From someone who saw this post on Facebook.

    “I find this repulsive. My husband signed up to give his life for our flag and what it stands for. I’d bet not many people being so disrespectful with it have offered that sacrifice.”

  10. Stuart Hutchings
    Posted February 1, 2017 at 11:26 am | Permalink

    I understand in addition to sustained pressure on Senators Collins and Markowski, Senator Toomey is supposedly on the fence. Folks from Penn should be showing up at his office in mass to respectfully demonstrate how concerned they are.

  11. anonymous
    Posted February 1, 2017 at 11:35 am | Permalink

    Speaking of education, and those who are now running our country, do you remember this article from Steve Bannon’s site Breitbart News back in 2015?

    Here’s Why There Ought to Be a Cap on Women Studying Science and Maths

    EXCERPT:

    “Women drop out of science and maths in alarming numbers, not because there are sinister and mysterious patriarchal forces at play, but because they either can’t cut it in highly competitive environments or they simply change their minds about what they want from life.”

    “That’s why I think there ought to be a cap on the number of women enrolling in the sciences, maths, philosophy, engineering… and perhaps medicine and the law, too. It’s hugely expensive to train a doctor, but women have something like a third of the career of a man in medicine, despite having equal access to Harvard Med. Women make up the majority of medical students.”

    http://www.breitbart.com/big-government/2015/06/15/heres-why-there-ought-to-be-a-cap-on-women-studying-science-and-maths/

  12. M
    Posted February 1, 2017 at 2:37 pm | Permalink

    The Hill reports: “Two GOP senators to vote ‘no’ on Betsy DeVos”

    http://thehill.com/homenews/senate/317379-gop-senator-to-vote-no-on-betsy-devos

    GOP Sens. Susan Collins (Maine) and Lisa Murkowski in back-to-back speeches on the Senate floor announced Wednesday that they would oppose Betsy DeVos’s nomination to be Education secretary.

    They are the first two Republicans to break with Trump on any of his Cabinet picks, and the votes could make it difficult for DeVos to win confirmation.

    If all of the Senate’s Democrats vote against DeVos, she would have 50 votes if the remaining Republicans backed her — with Vice President Mike Pence potentially breaking the tie. No Democrats have backed DeVos.

    KEEP UP THE PRESSURE.

    KEEP DIALING.

    DON’T STOP.

    IT’S WORKING.

  13. M
    Posted February 1, 2017 at 2:44 pm | Permalink

    I’m hearing that Flake (Arizona) and Heller (Nevada) may also be susceptible to pressure, in addition to Toomey (Pennsylvania). So if you know people in any of those three states, have them call.

  14. Donald Harrison
    Posted February 1, 2017 at 2:56 pm | Permalink

    I just left a message for Flake and let him know it’s unusual to call from another state, but I’m from MI and we’ve seen directly the damage she’s done to our educational system. If they get enough of these messages, won’t they at least note it? I’m also sending his info to my step sister in AZ asking her to rally the troops to see if Flake will step up (won’t that headline read great if he’s the one that turns the tide?…)

  15. from a friend
    Posted February 1, 2017 at 3:10 pm | Permalink

    “I’m told that Rob Portman (Ohio, @SenRobPortman), Dean Heller (NV, @SenDeanHeller), Pat Toomey (PA, @SenToomey), and Shelly Capito (WV, @SenCapito) are the most persuadable.”

  16. Mark Tucker
    Posted February 1, 2017 at 8:37 pm | Permalink

    [Joining hands around a school] could be a nice symbolic gesture–then it’s time to strengthen/build on (existing?) community teaching models encouraging folks in the community to volunteer time and expertise to augment what the teachers are trying to do in their woefully under resourced classrooms. We’re probably going to need to embrace the new charter format by creating public “charters” that supports kids through the institution of a strong public school system again. Running away from, and creating lots of private schools that only cater to the easy-to-teach and that diverts support from our public school system is immoral.

  17. Catherine Daligga
    Posted February 1, 2017 at 8:39 pm | Permalink

    [It wouldn’t take that many people to surround a school], really. It’s decent theater and a good idea. I participated in the Tiger Stadium hug years ago. Mind you, we didn’t succeed in saving the stadium. But I daresay that saving public education is a more significant goal.

  18. Donald Harrison
    Posted February 1, 2017 at 8:42 pm | Permalink

    If you set this in motion, I’ll film with my steadi-cam-like system for epic sweeps of the students and supporters. And we can likely get someone w/ a quadcopter to do the heroic overhead shot. It’s all about theater apparently in this new warped world…

  19. Rachele
    Posted February 1, 2017 at 10:37 pm | Permalink

    I’m sure it has something to do with what’s going on in DC, but the fact that the water is currently undrinkable in much of the city, leading to the closure of 22 Pittsburgh Public Schools, is also contributing to ‘burgher distress.

    http://www.post-gazette.com/local/city/2017/01/31/Half-of-PWSA-s-customers-ordered-to-boil-water-due-to-unspecified-problem/stories/201701310270

  20. Posted March 10, 2017 at 4:23 pm | Permalink

    Speaking of upside down flags, I think that someone is trying to send us a message.

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