Everyone who wrote to their Republican Senator urging them not to vote for Betsy DeVos got a form letter explaining why she was an excellent choice, blah blah blah. None of them referred to the fact that hers was the most contested Cabinet nomination in history, requiring the Vice-President to cast a tie-breaking vote.

Laura Chapman, our perspicacious reader and commenter, decided to annotate the canned response she got from her Senator.

She writes:

Like thousand of others, I called and wrote to my senators in an effort to stop the nomination of Betsy Devos. Here is the last reply I received from Ohio’s Senator Rob Portman. He has dual loyalties. One is to Donald Trump. The other is to Ohio’s Governor, John Kasich who has little use for public education unless it boosts the economy of Ohio.

My reply to Senator Portman follows each of his “reasons” for supporting DeVos and his reasoning about public education in Ohio.

Rob Portman says:

Dear Laura,

Thank you for contacting me to express your views on Betsy DeVos, the Secretary of the United States Department of Education. I appreciate you taking the time to contact me. I supported Betsy DeVos for Secretary of Education because during the confirmation process she committed to strongly support public education and because of her support for local control, instead of having the federal government dictate education policy at the state and local level.

Sir: Betsy DeVos did not voluntarily indicate that she has a commitment to public education. Anything resembling an expression of “commitment” had to be extracted from her and it was “voiced” only after she tried to save face. She needed to save face, having made ridiculous statements about guns for schools threatened by grizzly bears and by saying IDEA could be left up to the states. There is nothing in her resume that reflects a commitment to public education. She is the champion of for-profit education and tax-subsidized religious schools.

Portman says: I look forward to working with her to improve our K-12 public education system, make college more affordable, stand up for children with disabilities, and close the skills gap by promoting Career and Technical Education (CTE) to give young people more opportunities to succeed.

Sir: There is no evidence that she has any knowledge of what “improvement” looks like. She could not offer a coherent response to the difference between proficiency and “growth.” There is no evidence that she will stand up for children with disabilities. The school policies and practices she has promoted in Michigan allow schools to refuse enrollments of students with special needs. DeVos’s policy agenda for “Choice” means schools get to choose their students.

College affordability is an issue but there is not a clue in her testimony about how she might address that.

You imply that “promoting CTE” should be on the federal agenda and that CTE gives “young people more opportunities to succeed.” Can you cite any DeVos testimony that indicates she is knowledgeable about CTE “career pathways,” or specific skills gaps? Did she give testimony that offers a reason to believe she understands information on labor markets from the Bureau of Labor Statistics?

Portman says: “In addition, I do give some deference to the President choosing his cabinet, as I did when supporting President Obama’s nominees.”

Sir: In my judgment, deference should never override informed judgment about the qualifications of the nominee. DeVos is not just unqualified, she is hostile to public education.

Portman says: In the 21st century economy, a high quality education is critical to the social and economic well-being of our nation. I believe that the most important role in educating tomorrow’s workforce is played by parents, teachers, mentors, and community leaders at the state and local level. At a time when young people are leaving our state, we must work collaboratively in our communities to give students the tools necessary to compete in high demand fields in Ohio.

Sir: I respectfully disagree with your view of the purposes of public education. You have also conflated voting for DeVos and your apparent loyalty to John Kasich’s “Ohio First” educational policies (except his policies on school financing).

You restate Kasich’s parochial view that the major purpose of public education in Ohio is job preparation for “high demand fields in Ohio.” Of course, many students who are educated in Ohio will not spend the rest of their lives in Ohio. Do you regard these “leavers” as free-loaders? Will you blame educators if graduates of Ohio schools leave Ohio?

Should public education be tethered to workforce preparation for Ohio? I do not think so, especially since the economy is increasingly globalized and corporations show no loyalty to Ohio without some tax breaks. Those tax breaks do not help the budgets of public schools.

Among the many people whom you cite as having an important role in educating “tomorrow’s workforce” you omit yourself and other elected officials. You give lip-service to Ohio’s “social well being” as a purpose of education, but clearly want public education in Ohio to be tethered to workforce preparation for Ohio.

You say not a word about the most important mission of public education in the United States: preparing each generation to participate in a democratic society, especially being an informed voter.

Thank you for the form letter explaining your reason for supporting Devos as Secretary of Education and your views about the purposes of education.

I will be working to defeat you in the next election cycle.


Laura H. Chapman