Betsy DeVos, Donald Trump’s pick for Secretary of Education, is the first of several members of the incoming administration to have their confirmation hearings delayed.

“She may be the first casualty in the high-rise they’re building on the swamp here in Washington,” says Representative Mark Pocan of Madison, Wisconsin.

On Tuesday, January 10, Pocan and other supporters of public schools held a press conference to announce a new House Public Education Caucus—and to express their opposition to Devos.

“The fact that out of nine hearings only one was delayed this week, and that was DeVos, says something,” Pocan said in a phone interview after the event (several more cabinet hearings have since been pushed back). “Whether it’s because of the outcry from local districts or the concerns raised about her conflicts of interest.”

DeVos’s longtime lobbying for school vouchers, her “antipathy to public education,” as American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten put it, her ties to anti-gay groups, and her role in the destruction of the public school system in Detroit, are just some of the reasons she worries supporters of public schools.

DeVos has been a supporter of using public money to cover private school students’ tuition, including in Wisconsin, the first state to try school vouchers. “We’ve been a laboratory for these tests, and I can tell you they have failed miserably,” Pocan said at the press conference, citing shoddy, unregulated voucher schools and private-school families who now receive a taxpayer-financed subsidy for tuition, even though their children never attended public school. He added,

“I don’t want to see this happen across the country.” 

Pocan and Mark Takano, Democrat of California, a former teacher, had been talking about creating a House Public Education Caucus for some time. But the project took on more urgency when Trump nominated DeVos.

Randi Weingarten and Lily Eskelsen Garcia, the presidents of the two largest teachers unions in the nation (AFT and NEA), attended Tuesday’s launch of the Public Education Caucus, and pointed out that Congress just passed a sweeping, bipartisan law that protected federal funding for public education.

Trump and DeVos are poised to roll back that bipartisan consensus on supporting public schools. “They are going to reignite the education wars,” said Randi Weingarten.

In a Press Club speech on January 9, Weingarten called DeVos “the antithesis of what our kids need,” saying Trump’s chosen education secretary  is poised to “bankrupt, destabilize, and disrupt schools” across the country. Weingarten appealed to DeVos to visit public schools across the country that are serving millions of kids well.

K12 education was not a hot topic in the campaigns of 2016—in fact, it barely came up at all. But the politics of public education might be changing, says Pocan, who described himself as “shocked” by how passionate his colleagues were on the issue.

“We are advocates because this is the great equalizer,” he said after the press conference. “You have to have equal access to strong public education to have real opportunity.” Public schools, he says, turns out to be a sleeper issue that attracts passionate support from a diverse group of members of Congress.

“People fundamentally support public schools. We see that in referendum after referendum in Wisconsin—where people are voting to fund their school districts,” Pocan points out.

“We know over 90 percent of people still attend public schools in this country. If you don’t have a great public education system you really don’t have equal opportunity.”

The Trump Administration and members of Congress will be hearing from some of the 90 percent over the next week, in the lead-up to DeVos’s rescheduled confirmation hearing.

Ruth Conniff is editor-in-chief of The Progressive.

Wisconsin Representative Mark Pocan held a press conference with Rep. Mark Takano, House Democrats, and AFT Pres. Randi Weingarten & NEA Pres. Lily Eskelsen García to announce the House Public Education Caucus and to fight the the nomination of Betsy DeVos as Secretary of Education.




"...private-school families who now receive a taxpayer-financed subsidy for tuition, even though their children never attended public school..." I don't understand this objection. Do progressives believe that these children don't deserve education support? Isn't that the whole point of the subsidies?

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By Wendell Berry

Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front

Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more 
of everything ready made. Be afraid 
to know your neighbors and to die.
And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery 
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card 
and shut away in a little drawer.
When they want you to buy something 
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know. 
So, friends, every day do something
that won’t compute. Love the Lord. 
Love the world. Work for nothing. 
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it. 
Denounce the government and embrace 
the flag. Hope to live in that free 
republic for which it stands. 
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man 
has not encountered he has not destroyed.
Ask the questions that have no answers. 
Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.

Say that the leaves are harvested 
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.
Put your faith in the two inches of humus 
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.
Listen to carrion—put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come. 
Expect the end of the world. Laugh. 
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts. 
So long as women do not go cheap 
for power, please women more than men.
Ask yourself: Will this satisfy 
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep 
of a woman near to giving birth? 
Go with your love to the fields.
Lie easy in the shade. Rest your head 
in her lap. Swear allegiance 
to what is nighest your thoughts.
As soon as the generals and the politicos 
can predict the motions of your mind, 
lose it. Leave it as a sign 
to mark the false trail, the way 
you didn’t go. Be like the fox 
who makes more tracks than necessary, 
some in the wrong direction.
Practice resurrection.

Wendell Berry is a poet, farmer, and environmentalist in Kentucky. This poem, first published in 1973, is reprinted by permission of the author and appears in his “New Collected Poems” (Counterpoint).

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