By Patrick Donachie
In the aftermath of the razor-thin confirmation Tuesday of Betsy DeVos as the education secretary in President Trump’s cabinet, elected officials expressed concern about her views on public education.
“As the chair of the Assembly Education Committee and as a parent of a public school student, I am concerned about Secretary DeVos’s views on policies which I believe will negatively affect our public schools, teachers, parents and most importantly our wonderful students,” state Assemblywoman Catherine Nolan (D-Astoria) said. “I have opposed her confirmation and am grateful our two New York senators voted no. Our students need more resources, not less.”
Northeast Queens has the two top-performing school districts in the city – District 26 in the Bayside area and District 25 in the Flushing area.
DeVos, a philanthropist and a former chairwoman of the Michigan Republican Party, is an avowed advocate of school voucher programs and charter schools. Supporters laud her work in promoting school choice, but critics believe her tenure could be destructive to public education.
At a news conference Jan. 17, Mayor Bill de Blasio said any push to dismantle public education on the part of DeVos could be misguided.
“There is a tremendous feeling for public education in this country, including in rural districts, including in red states, and anything that might undercut resources for our public schools is going to meet with a lot of opposition,” he said.
DeVos was criticized by Democrats for her answers during a Senate confirmation hearing Jan. 17, and many lawmakers reported hearing strong criticism from constituents, urging elected officials not to confirm DeVos. Two Republicans joined all Democratic senators in voting “no” to make the confirmation vote a 50-50 tie that needed to be broken by Vice President Mike Pence.
Some city education leaders expressed support for DeVos, including Eva Moskowitz, the CEO of Success Academy. Moskowitz, an advocate for charter schools and a frequent critic of the de Blasio administration, said DeVos was right for the job.
“Betsy DeVos’ confirmation as education secretary is a positive step forward for the millions of public schoolchildren across America who have been failed by a broken education system,” Moskowitz said. “Her leadership and drive will deliver meaningful reforms and start a new chapter for all children — no matter race, socioeconomic status, or zip code — to have access to high-quality schools.”
De Blasio said New Yorkers concerned about DeVos’s impact on city schools should know that the federal government could only do so much to local control of schools.
“It’s not going to stop us from doing everything we’re doing,” he said. “But I also don’t want to overstate the threat.”
Reach reporter Patrick Donachie by e-mail at pdona