Senate Should Promptly Confirm Betsy DeVos
Sen. Lamar Alexander
1558

Hello Senator Alexander,

Thank you for sharing your thoughts on DeVos and the future of American schools. Though I disagree with you on many points, I understand your frustration with Democrats. And I also appreciate that you’re writing on Medium: I think more of our politicians should have an active, writing voice. At times, though, you ask damned if you do, damned if you don’t type questions. “Her critics dislike that she is wealthy. Would they be happier if she had spent her money denying children from low-income families choices of schools?” I’d venture — but I don’t think I’m wrong: this isn’t the only reason we dislike her. She hasn’t, for instance, used much of that wealth to get an education degree…I’d suspect that should be required for the position she’s seeking, though many in the past haven’t exactly had one, either.

When you reference how many follow up questions she was asked, you make a point of comparing it with how many were asked of President Obama’s first education secretary: is this a partisan comparison or simply a comparison of each candidate’s experience?

Now she is answering 837 written follow up questions from Democratic committee members — 1,397 if you include all the questions within a question. By comparison, Republicans asked President Obama’s first education secretary 53 written follow-up questions and his second education secretary 56 written follow-up questions, including questions within a question. In other words, Democrats have asked Mrs. DeVos 25 times as many follow-up questions as Republicans asked of either of President Obama’s education secretaries.

Notably, DeVos doesn’t have experience in education. She also preformed poorly (very poorly) at her congressional hearing. You may not agree, but many teachers and students do. Maybe that explains the questions? And, let’s not forget the five-minute questioning rule: we have time for filibusters in American democracy, but not for more than five minutes of questioning about a real topic? Intriguing…

Further, you seem to equate the fact that “her hearing lasted nearly an hour and a half longer than either of President Obama’s education secretaries” to an insistence on questioning, but isn’t this really because of how poorly she answered? Or even how often she refused to give answers? You’ll recall her many blunders: growth versus proficiency, IDEA, and grizzlies. I understand that time is money, but isn’t an issue so encompassing as education worth all the time we have?

Finally, if I read this right, you’re implicitly arguing that Pell Grants used at the college level are somehow equitable to DeVos’ proposed voucher programs.

Tax dollars supporting school choice is hardly subversive or new. In 2016, $121 billion in federal Pell Grants and new student loans followed 11 million college students to accredited public, private or religious schools of their choice, whether Notre Dame, Yeshiva, the University of Tennessee or Nashville’s auto diesel college. These aid payments are, according to Webster’s — “vouchers”-exactly the same form of payments that Mrs. DeVos supports for schools.

Funding secondary and post-secondary educations are two different things, though. Low SES families living in poverty, I’m sure, would love to send their children to stellar, affluent primary and secondary schools, but this requires much more than rerouting a bus route. Trust me, I’m a teacher. I hear this all the time. These families have to get up and move their homes and cultures to neighborhoods that they often just can’t afford. My family could afford it — thankfully we didn’t even have to do it, though. But I’m privileged. Most aren’t. There are many more expenses these families incur by sending their kids to better schools, as the voucher plan promises. I’d urge you to visit http://www.edbuild.org for more on this. Share that link with others interested in making education policy if quality is their goal.

All things considered, I do appreciate your time in articulating your position on an issue so inherently American that it’s impossible to ignore. Moreover, thank you for putting aside your beliefs, as you maintain in your last paragraph, “to confirm promptly President Obama’s nomination of John King to be Education Secretary, even though I disagreed with him.” If you’re interested in reading my stance on the issue, you’ll find it here https://medium.com/@george.goga/betsy-devos-mediocrity-uninterrupted-6a50497c2508#.sjal2z40u.

Here’s to more dialogue in the future,

George Goga