Colorado’s senior U.S. senator, Democrat Michael Bennet, is getting an earful from Colorado education advocates and lawmakers about Betsy DeVos.
Bennet sits on the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, which is scheduled to vote Tuesday on the Michigan billionaire’s nomination as education secretary.
DeVos, who has used her wealth to advocate for expanding school choice in her home state and around the nation, is facing greater scrutiny after a rocky confirmation hearing.
State Sen. Owen Hill, a Colorado Springs Republican who chairs the Senate Education Committee, and Mike Miles, a former district superintendent in Colorado Springs and Dallas, spoke in favor of DeVos’ nomination Monday on a conference call organized by a nonprofit she leads as chairwoman, the American Federation of Children.
Both said they supported DeVos because of her track record as a change agent.
“Our kids’ future depends on shaking up the status quo,” Hill said.
DeVos stumbled during her confirmation hearing on issues including the different ways student achievement is measured and the federal government’s role in protecting the rights of students with disabilities.
Her lack of experience in the traditional public school system doesn’t bother Hill, who said he sees it as an attribute. Miles, however, suggested DeVos had some catching up to do.
“I do hope she will surround herself with people who have been in traditional public schools,” said Miles, who plans to launch a new charter school in Aurora this fall. “l don’t have any reason to think she won’t.”
Meanwhile, state Sen. Andy Kerr, Colorado PTA and former state Sen. Michael Johnston, a Denver Democrat who is running for governor, released separate statements Monday opposing DeVos.
Kerr joined hundreds of other state lawmakers from across the nation is opposing the nomination. He said in an accompanying statement:
A strong public education system is a basic right for millions of our children and should be a fundamental priority for our nation’s leaders. I know this as a father, as a school teacher, and as a current state legislator. Ms. DeVos does not have experience in public education, and she has used her vast wealth to influence our system in a way that hurts public school students.
From Colorado PTA:
It is imperative that all schools be given adequate, equitable funding and the opportunity to meet the needs of all students and the expectations of its communities. All schools must be held to the same level of accountability. Public tax dollars are for public, non-commercial and non-sectarian use and oversight. Colorado PTA asks you to please support a nominee for secretary of education who shares our beliefs in public education.
I oppose the confirmation of Betsy DeVos. Our children deserve someone who understands the complexity of the challenges we face and is committed to the transparency, accountability and high standards families deserve. Being divisive is no substitute for being diligent, and being partisan is no proxy for being prepared.
During DeVos’s confirmation hearing, Bennet, a former Denver Public Schools superintendent, invited DeVos to visit Denver to learn how the district approves and manages its charter schools.
Bennet’s office declined to comment Monday.