Phila. artist raises $70k to oppose DeVos, 'buy' Toomey's vote

As the clock ticks down to a confirmation vote on Betsy DeVos’ nomination as U.S. secretary of education, Philadelphians continue to weigh in on President Trump’s pick.

Mayor Kenney on Monday sent Sen. Pat Toomey (R., Pa.) a letter asking him to vote against DeVos, whose confirmation is expected Tuesday. Kenney said the Senate ought not to “appoint someone to a job she does not understand, which could have tremendous consequences for our most vulnerable children and our economy.”

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Katherine Fritz started her campaign out of frustration.

Meanwhile, a Philadelphia teaching artist who started a crowdfunding campaign to “buy” Toomey’s vote surpassed her funding goal and was poised on Monday to raise $70,000, money she has pledged to Philadelphia charities that support children.

More than 4,000 people donated to Katherine Fritz’s cause, which has attracted national attention.

The backlash against DeVos, a Michigan philanthropist who has derided public schools and backed charter schools and vouchers, has been widespread. She is viewed with suspicion by progressives for never having attended or sent children to a public school, and her unsteady performance at her confirmation exacerbated their mistrust.

"Our schools need help. If we have someone who is bent on privatizing education, turning every school into a private school, that's not in the best interest of our children. It's my responsibility and our responsibility to express that view to our elected officials, who have a responsibility to vote for or against her," Kenney said at a news conference at City Hall.

Steve Kelly, Toomey's spokesman, said Toomey and the mayor had a "substantial"  conversation over the weekend on the topic.

"Sen. Toomey looks forward to reviewing the letter Mayor Kenney sent today and will reply in a timely fashion," Kelly said.

Fritz said she was flabbergasted to note that her GoFundMe campaign was almost at $70,000. Her goal was $60,000 — roughly the amount DeVos has donated to Toomey — but her expectations were far more modest.

“I thought I would raise $30,” she said. “I thought people would recognize it as a joke. It never really crossed my mind that somebody would see this and actually get their credit cards out.”

That such a staggering sum — more than double what she has ever earned in a year, Fritz said — poured forth in just four days means something significant, she said. Teachers have been organizing protests, and parents have been calling, faxing and emailing Toomey for weeks, rarely able to get through but still trying.

Fritz said she started the campaign out of frustration and anger that someone who couldn’t distinguish between proficiency and growth, who seemed confused about the federal law protecting disabled students’ rights, might be the top education official in the country.

And people responded, mostly in small sums — $5, $10, $25. Some left messages — “Our democracy is at risk,” and “My husband and I are both music teachers with two toddlers at home. If Betsy DeVos is appointed and our positions get cut, I'll be coming to you, Sen. Toomey, for a job and student loan money.” Fritz was riveted.

“People feel like their voices aren’t being heard,” said Fritz, who is 31 and lives in South Philadelphia. “This feels like another form of protest. It’s incredibly affirming.”

She also got to do something she never imagined she’d do, given her income level.

“I got to send emails with the subject line: ‘I’d like to give you a lot of money,’” said Fritz. She is donating the money to a girls’ leadership camp, to the Children’s Literacy Initiative, and to the Pennsylvania Arts Education Network.

And an amazing thing has happened as a result, said Fritz. She has marched since November, and she has called Toomey’s office every day. But for the first time in months, she feels better.

“I did a dumb thing that made a huge impact on the lives of children,” she said. “That feels pretty amazing.

Kelly, Toomey's spokesman, said that the senator found Fritz's campaign "fun" and "has no problem with it, really."

Staff writer Julia Terruso contributed to this article.

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