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New House Education Caucus, Union Leaders Continue Anti-Betsy DeVos Push

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UPDATED

Washington

A new caucus of the House of Representatives announced Tuesday it was dedicated to fighting the nomination of Betsy DeVos, President-elect Donald Trump's pick to be education secretary, and to fight for what its members said was crucial funding for public schools.  

During a press conference here on Tuesday, Rep. Mark Pocan, D-Wis., who announced the formation of the House Public Education Caucus along with Rep. Mark Takano, D-Calif., said he opposed DeVos' push for private school vouchers in places like Wisconsin without meaningful oversight.

"I don't want to see this lack of accountability across the country," said Pocan, who was joined by several other Democatic lawmakers. No Republicans spoke at the event. (A spokesman for Pocan didn't immediately respond to a question concerning whether the caucus contacted any GOP members of the House about joining, or vice versa.) UPDATE: David Kolovson, Pocan's spokesman, said the congressman's office is "hopeful to have this caucus become bipartisan in the near future."

Lawmakers with the House Public Education Caucus also highlighted DeVos' lack of experience with public schools. "Mrs. DeVos has no interest in supporting the public education system in this country," Takano said. 

Supporters of DeVos have touted a letter from Republican governors from 18 states (and two U.S. territories), in which the state leaders said DeVos would rightly ensure states and districts get more control and that more dollars reach the classroom and not bureaucracies.

The presidents of the American Federation of Teachers and the National Education Assocation also spoke at the House Public Education Caucus event. AFT President Randi Weingarten blamed DeVos for contributing to problems with schools in Detroit. On Monday, Weingarten gave a speech calling DeVos an unqualified ideologue who could unravel the work that's gone into the Every Student Succeeds Act, which was passed with bipartisan support in 2015 and also had union backing.

And National Education Association President Lily Eskelsen García said, "Betsy DeVos is a danger to students, epsecially our most vulnerable students."

The American Federation for Children, the pro-school-choice group that DeVos led until Trump nominated her, has dismissed AFT and NEA opposition as posturing from entrenched groups opposed to educational options for children. 

Others to speak at the event included:

  • Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., who wondered what stances DeVos would take regarding federal funding for special education students and for Title I, which aids programs for disadvantaged children.
  • Rep. Suzanne Bonamici, D-Ore., who said that "privatization" efforts (i.e. vouchers) simply wouldn't work in the rural districts in Oregon she represents in Congress.
  • Rep. Jared Polis, D-Colo., who backs charter schools and said he was worried DeVos would support low-quality schooling options for students, given her track record.
  • Rep. Raul Grijalva, D-Ariz, who claimed that DeVos bought her nomination as education secretary. That's a reference to her status as a big-time GOP donor. (President Barack Obama's Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker also was a major "bundler" of donations for Democratic politicians.)

Photo: Rep. Mark Pocan, D-Wisc., speaks at the announcement of the formation of the House Public Education Caucus, which oppose Betsy DeVos' nomination as education secretary, at the U.S. Capitol in Washington on Tuesday.


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