As thousands of Americans rallied this weekend in support of American values to oppose President Donald Trump's Muslim ban, another protest was happening in Holland.
On Saturday hundreds of Michiganders rallied and marched in billionaire Betsy DeVos's hometown to protest her nomination to lead Trump's Education Department. A special education teacher at the march remarked of DeVos's nomination, "It's like putting Cruella De Vil in charge of the humane society."
I guess you could call her, "Cruella DeVos."
It just isn't teachers in Michigan that are opposed to DeVos. Across the country, educators and concerned parents are speaking out. The National Education Association says that more than one million Americans have emailed their senators to ask them to stop DeVos. One senator reported that 95 percent of the contacts her office received regarding the education department pick were against DeVos.
WHAT'S AT STAKE
The outrage about DeVos isn't merely anti-Trump -- it's based on her record. Putting aside her performance at her confirmation hearing, where she "displayed a lack of knowledge about education fundamentals or refused to answer questions that Democratic members of the Senate Education Committee believe are critical to her fitness for the job," DeVos's background in education should be more than enough to disqualify her from running our nation's top education agency.
For two decades, Betsy DeVos has fought to take away dollars from public schools that educate all of our kids and instead divert resources to religious schools and for-profit charter schools. In 2000, the DeVos family backed a Michigan ballot initiative to allow public dollars to go to vouchers, but the proposal was handily defeated. Having failed to buy an election, the DeVoses decided instead to buy a legislature, giving $7 million to the state GOP and politicians to back "school choice." With a friendly Republican statehouse, the number of charters skyrocketed in Michigan, with 80 percent of the state's charters operating for profit and with little oversight. The result has been educational chaos, particularly for students in Detroit. In the last seven years, more than 150 charters have opened or closed, but charter school performance is no better than traditional public schools.
For anyone who has followed the history of Ohio's charter schools, Michigan's experience should sound familiar. Here in the Buckeye State, taxpayers spend $1 billion annually on a charter school system that is rife with waste, fraud and abuse. Ohio's charter school experiment began in Lucas County in the late '90s, but the number of charters -- and resources being diverted away from public schools -- has exploded in the last decade. This development coincided with DeVos creating a new political action committee, All Children Matter, that funneled $870,000 in 2006 to candidates that supported "school choice."
Now buying a legislature in Ohio isn't illegal -- but the way DeVos tried to do it was. The Ohio Elections Commission voted unanimously in 2008 that All Children Matter had illegally laundered money from a Virginia PAC (where there were no donation limits) to Ohio (which had caps on contributions) -- and they fined DeVos's PAC $5.2 million. The PAC never paid the fine, and it's continued to accrue additional fees every single day since then.
Betsy DeVos claims that she doesn't owe Ohio a dime, that it's the PAC that should pay up. On the other hand, Betsy has been footing the bill for the PAC's legal fees -- and did we mention that she's a billionaire? To Betsy DeVos, $5.3 million might not seem like much, but as Sen. Sherrod Brown said, that sum "would hire a lot of teachers in the public school system around Ohio."
Betsy DeVos has been a disaster for public education in Michigan and Ohio -- and she wants to take that model nationwide. She doled out millions to politicians and then bragged she expected "something in return." If we don't stop her nomination, she'll turn the U.S. Department of Education into her own private swamp.
WHERE WE STAND
The outpouring of opposition to DeVos has united Senate Democrats.
Sen. Sherrod Brown has weighed in, saying, "We have this charter school scandal in Ohio that's really hurt us, and I don't want to see that get worse. And under this Secretary of Education, it could very likely get worse. For her, it's about making the profit from public education, and I just don't think she is suited to be head of this department."
Last week Sen. Al Franken told Rachel Maddow, "She is someone that there's not going to be one Democratic vote for her, and we're trying to find Republicans who will vote against her because she's an ideologue who knows next to nothing about education policy as we demonstrated, or she demonstrated really, in her confirmation hearing."
In contrast, DeVos's nomination has won praise from Ohio Republicans like Gov. John Kasich, who sent a letter to the Senate committee reviewing DeVos, former Senate President Keith Faber, who also signed on to a letter to the committee, and Treasurer Josh Mandel.
What do all of these folks have in common? They've all benefited from DeVos's largesse. According to the Columbus Dispatch, "Campaign finance records show that DeVos and her wealthy family gave $49,800 in contributions to Kasich during his 2010 and 2014 runs for governor and his bid for the GOP nomination last year." Faber and Mandel, along with Secretary of State Jon Husted and Lt. Gov. Mary Taylor, all received direct contributions from All Children Matter.
Betsy and her husband have donated to the campaigns of four committee members that will consider her nomination and 17 of the senators that will eventually vote on her nomination. And guess who was one of the senators that received DeVos donations? Rob Portman.
DeVos family members have chipped in $51,000 for Portman's Senate campaigns.
WHAT YOU CAN DO
DeVos's nomination vote has already been delayed, but today the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee will finally vote. Democrats have said they are UNITED in opposing DeVos, but they need our help. They need three Republicans to vote no. Portman has not stated how he will vote.
Rob Portman should stop looking at his campaign finance report and listen to the voters of Ohio. Will you make your voice heard?
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