Public school educators and teacher unions on Long Island and at the state level largely denounced Betsy DeVos’ confirmation Tuesday as the nation’s secretary of education, while supporters of school choice celebrated and claimed victory.
That the matter required a tiebreaking vote in the U.S. Senate from Vice President Mike Pence — a first-ever for a cabinet appointee — demonstrated the might of public education advocates, even as their fierce protest movement fell short, some opponents of DeVos said.
“We’re optimistic in the sense of what this did. This whole movement displayed that in times of fear, communities come together,” said Michael Krieger, president of the Bay Shore Classroom Teachers Association. “This isn’t a defeat. If anything, this is more motivation for us as educators, parents and students to come together in this fight.”
DeVos, a Michigan billionaire philanthropist and Republican mega-donor, has supported taxpayer-subsidized vouchers and the expansion of charter schools. Skeptics have pointed to her lack of experience in the sphere of public education and predicted less federal funding for them under DeVos’ leadership.
Fears of fewer dollars for public schools stem from President Donald Trump’s campaign promise to reallocate $20 billion in existing federal funds for 11 million students living in “absolute poverty.” The money instead would be doled out as part of a block grant program available to the states, but specifics of that plan have not been laid out.
Roger Tilles, of Great Neck, who represents Long Island on the state Board of Regents, said after the Senate’s 51-50 vote, “I’m not surprised, but I’m very disappointed.” Tilles formerly served on Michigan’s State Board of Education and in other state posts there in the 1970s.
“I don’t believe her education philosophy is at all in sync with New York’s or the majority of the country,” Tilles said. “Having been in Michigan, their family was well-known to me and used their financial muscle to get their education philosophy through there. It’s been an abysmal failure.”
New York State United Teachers, the state’s largest teacher union, blasted the action, calling DeVos “a dangerous ideologue with absolutely no experience or qualifications to lead the U.S. Department of Education.”