Philadelphia education community blasts Betsy DeVos confirmation

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Students protest against President-elect Donald J. Trump's nominee for education secretary, Betsy DeVos, in Oregon. Her confirmation has also drawn fierce criticism in Philadelphia.

The Philadelphia education community has been quick to condemn school choice activist Betsy DeVos' confirmation as secretary of education.

The Senate confirmed DeVos on Tuesday, with Vice President Pence breaking a 50-50 tie, the first time a vice president has had to cast such a vote on a cabinet nomination.

Pennsylvania's senators were split on the nomination: Democrat Bob Casey has been among those vocally opposing President Trump's pick to lead the Department of Education, while Republican Pat Toomey backed DeVos. Her nomination had been divisive in the Senate and among the public, with critics citing the wealthy Republican donor's lack of public school experience and financial ties to charter-school groups. 

In Philadelphia, reaction to the confirmation was swift and largely negative.

"Betsy DeVos has no experience with, and stunningly little knowledge of, the issues and challenges that face our public schools," Jerry Jordan, head of the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers, said in a statement. "By confirming her nomination, the GOP members of the Senate have demonstrated that they value deep pockets and an anti-public-school ideology over the needs of America's schoolchildren."

In the lead-up to the vote, constituents in Philadelphia and elsewhere flooded their lawmakers with calls. City Councilwoman Helen Gym vowed to continue those efforts Tuesday.

"Betsy DeVos and Donald Trump have no mandate to implement their extremist anti-public school agenda," she said in a statement. "Every step of the way, we will be holding Ms. DeVos accountable as we push for the schools we need, not the schools she wishes to force on us."

Others who work locally in education also criticized the confirmation.

 

"It is a blatant rejection of the will of the people," Lynda Rubin, legislative liaison for the advocacy group Alliance for Philadelphia Public Schools, said in a statement. "Citizens across the country appealed to their senators in unprecedented numbers to reject a nominee whose answers before the Senate committee  showed that she is clearly unqualified and that she has no knowledge or understanding of basic education policy or pedagogy."

One Philadelphia education reporter noted the unusual angst surrounding DeVos' nomination:

Many people posting reactions on social media in the aftermath of the confirmation vote were directing their messages to Toomey, who was the target of a Philadelphia teaching artist's crowdfunding campaign to "buy" his vote against DeVos.

Teaching artist Katherine Fritz closed her online campaign to “buy” Toomey’s vote shortly after the vote to confirm DeVos was taken.

Donations had poured in from across the country over several days. In all, $71,196 was raised -- $20,000 each for a girls’ leadership camp, the Pennsylvania Arts Education Network, and Children’s Literacy Initiative. An additional $11,196 will go to the Fund for the School District of Philadelphia.

“I would be lying through my teeth if I said I wasn't heartbroken and angry right now at the results of the vote,” Fritz wrote in a note to supporters after DeVos was confirmed. “The kind of heartbroken and angry that you feel when someone passes away after a long illness: you knew it was coming, and yet the loss, even one that you've been prepared for, is still a heavy anchor in your gut.”

She encouraged supporters to “focus on the good that we have achieved” and to “come back fighting.”

Pennsylvanians upset about Trump's cabinet picks and other policies have ramped up their "Tuesdays With Toomey" protests outside the senator's Philadelphia office since the election. Those demonstrating outside his office Tuesday erupted in chants when they got word of the confirmation.

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