The following letter was sent to express the NNER’s opinion on the nomination of Betsy DeVos as Secretary of Education. Since the submission of this letter Jeanne Gerlach has been leading an effort to craft a statement for the Chronicle of Higher Education that updates and expands the NNER’s position on the DeVos selection.
January 17, 2017
As members of the National Network for Education Renewal (NNER), our mission is to educate students for participation in a democratic society through the simultaneous renewal of schools and the institutions that prepare teachers. With goals of creating socially just and compassionate communities of educators, we are dedicated
to inclusiveness and resist educational policies and practices rooted in exclusivity. Therefore, as an organization of educators, we feel compelled to express our serious concerns about the appointment of Elisabeth “Betsy” DeVos as Secretary of Education of the United States.
Based on her prior experiences in her home state of Michigan, a likely outcome
of DeVos’ appointment would be to distribute federal and state funds currently earmarked to support low-income, underserved students and students with disabilities to private institutions. This type of action is in direct opposition to the mission of NNER. We have promised to educate the young for thoughtful participation in a social and political democracy. We work to provide equitable access to excellent education for all students, not just some. Private schools are discriminatory by their very nature. They require an application process where a child may be accepted or denied—for financial, academic, behavioral or religious reasons. Not only do DeVos’ proposed programs defy our country’s First Amendment by mingling our public generated funds with private and religious institutions, they take those monies from low-income communities and communities of color where they are most needed. The NNER does not support directing state or federal resources to privatization at the expense of public schools, which, unlike private schools, are publicly and relentlessly tasked with demonstrating accountability to the children, families and communities they serve.
When Congress created the Department of Education in 1979, its primary purpose was to “strengthen the Federal commitment to ensuring access to equal educational opportunity for every individual.” Betsy DeVos has openly expressed her hostility toward public schools. Despite having no experience whatsoever with public education, she has attacked public schools calling them “antiquated and frankly embarrassing” and “a dead end.” Further, DeVos has a track record of diverting public dollars away from public schools to fund private schools. As a billionaire, evidence of DeVos’ questionable tactics is reflected in the record $5.2 million fine still owed to the State of Ohio—levied by the Ohio Elections Commission for laundering campaign cash through her All Children Matter PAC in 2006. As reported in the New York Times, her attempts to influence political officials includes handing out over $800,000 to 20 sitting senators in just the past two election cycles. Clearly, her questionable ethical behavior, lack of fiscal accountability for publicly-funded education, agenda to restrict access of children to a quality public education, and clear bias against public education threatens our country’s basic democratic values and commitments to our citizens. The strength of our nation requires that our educational agenda focuses on closing the opportunity gap for students from all backgrounds, not widen it. The National Network for Educational Renewal is committed to pursuing excellence and equity for all students, a stance that Betsy DeVos has opposed through her attacks on public schools. Thus, we cannot support her nomination as Secretary of Education of the United States.