The news of Betsy DeVos’ confirmation as education secretary after a historic vote came just before Evergreen Education Association President Rob Lutz walked into a meeting with other teacher union leaders across the state.
“It was pretty somber,” Lutz said.
Local teacher union officials shared feelings ranging from disappointment to outrage Tuesday after the 51-to-50 vote confirming DeVos to lead the U.S. Department of Education.
Vice President Mike Pence had to issue a historic tiebreaking vote for the Michigan billionaire, who has been a longtime advocate for expanding school choice. DeVos, however, has little experience with public schools.
“This is a situation where this individual is unqualified to do a job,” Lutz said. “That doesn’t make sense to me.”
No Democrats supported DeVos’ confirmation, and two Republican senators voted against her as well, making it the first time an education secretary has been appointed without bipartisan support.
“This was raw politics, and yet another way that certain individuals, certain groups, are going to try to attack public schools,” said Rick Wilson, executive director of the Vancouver Education Association.
Lynn Maiorca, president of the Vancouver Education Association, said the notion that public school does not offer choice to students is false, listing off some of the magnet offerings Vancouver Public Schools provides its students.
“The idea that charter schools or for-profit schools are going to add additional choices is possible, but not at the expense of our public schools that are already offering choice,” she said.
Linda Peterson, president of the Battle Ground Education Association, worries what role money played in DeVos’ confirmation hearings. Last month, former presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders pressed DeVos on the estimated $200 million her family has collectively contributed to Republicans over the years.
“She has literally spent millions of dollars on behalf of conservative candidates and causes,” Peterson said. “I don’t believe … that she’s going to change how she thinks or what she believes.”
At the state level, Washington Education Association spokesman Rich Wood also criticized DeVos.
“She’s unqualified and unfit to be secretary of education,” Wood said.
DeVos has come under fire for supporting such programs as private school vouchers that critics say remove funding from public school. That’s of particular interest in Washington, Wood said, which is currently grappling with how to respond to the 2012 McCleary decision, which held that the state is failing in its constitutional duty to fully fund public K-12 education.
“There’s just tremendous opposition to DeVos’ really extreme approach to privatizing public education,” he said. “We’re going to defend our schools from (her) failed schemes that would privatize our public schools.”
The Washington State Charter Schools Association offered a more measured reaction to DeVos’ confirmation. Spokeswoman Maggie Meyers said the association is waiting to see what DeVos will offer Washington’s either of currently operating charter schools, and what will happen next as three are slated to open this fall.
“In the context of today’s confirmation, I think the question is now whether (DeVos) will stand up to support a strong public education system and stand up for the civil rights of all students,” Meyers said.
A call to King’s Way Christian Schools, one of Clark County’s private schools, was not returned.