Concord, N.H. – Communities across New Hampshire are speaking out against Betsy DeVos after she was confirmed as Secretary of Education on Tuesday, including parents and educators who have highlighted Mrs. DeVos’s troubling lack of understanding of the types of challenges students with disabilities face.
Under questioning from Senator Hassan, Mrs. DeVos admitted in her confirmation hearing that she was confused whether the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act was a federal law.
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Betsy DeVos’ historic and contentious confirmation as the nation’s next education secretary has many up in arms, including some in the Monadnock region.
Linda Quintanilha, a Bennington parent with two autistic children, said Wednesday that DeVos’ confirmation is “pretty troubling,” especially for those students with disabilities. Voucher programs, among other things according to Quintanilha, could be harmful to many groups of students.
“There are a lot of unintended consequences that could be harmful to students, especially those with disabilities,” said Quintanilha, who has been an advocate for those with disabilities for more than a decade. “She needs more education on special education.”
DeVos — a former Michigan Republican Party chair who has little experience with public education — was confirmed as the 11th U.S. Secretary of Education after a 51-50 Senate vote on Tuesday. The vote marked the first time a vice president had to cast the tie-breaking vote for a cabinet member, with Vice President Mike Pence joining 50 other Republican senators.
Those against DeVos have argued that her advocacy of school choice, school voucher programs, and charter schools, coupled with her lack of experience will be harmful to public education. Those in support have argued that she could bring a fresh perspective to the job, devolve education decisions back to the states, and push for more opportunities for poor and disadvantaged students.
Jaffrey-Rindge Cooperative School District Superintendent Reuben Duncan is also concerned with DeVos’ lack of understanding surrounding regulations dealing with students with disabilities, adding that the district remains committed to engaging in strengthening education efforts at the local level.
“Though I think it is a bit strange that a position such as the U.S. Secretary of Education is being filled by an individual who appears to have little-to-no understanding of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), it does not change our focus or work in the Jaffrey-Rindge Cooperative School District,” said Duncan. “I am less concerned about what is happening at the federal level and more engaged with the important work we are currently doing here locally. My focus is on the communities of Rindge and Jaffrey, not Washington D.C.”
… New Hampshire’s two U.S. Senators — Democrats Maggie Hassan and Jeanne Shaheen — have both been outspoken against DeVos, and were two of the 46 Democratic senators to vote against DeVos. Two Republican and two Independent senators also did not vote for DeVos.
… Hassan released a statement after DeVos’ confirmation, saying DeVos is unqualified for the position, adding that the education secretary should have the “broad backing of a range of communities.”
“I am extremely disappointed that only two of my Republican colleagues listened to their constituents and voted against Mrs. DeVos’ nomination,” said Hassan in her statement. “All students, regardless of personal circumstances, have a right to a free and appropriate public education and I will do everything in my power to protect this fundamental right. I will continue to stand up for the students and families of New Hampshire and fight any effort by the new Secretary of Education to undermine our public school system or make it harder for students to thrive.”
… DeVos’ confirmation on Tuesday — which required Vice President Mike Pence to break a 50-50 tie — has particular resonance in New Hampshire, where first-term Republican Gov. Chris Sununu has nominated Frank Edelblut, a business executive who has home-schooled his seven children, to lead the state’s education department.
… “They are strikingly similar, in our view,” said George Strout, the spokesman for the New Hampshire affiliate of the National Education Association, the country’s largest teachers union. New Hampshire teachers, he added, are “very concerned” about how Edelblut might affect education policy in the state.
Support for Edelblut on the Executive Council also is largely set, Strout said, and there is little likelihood of halting the confirmation. But “we will mostly use it as a rallying cry in a year and a half when we’re re-electing these councillors,” he said.
All four senators from New Hampshire and Vermont voted against DeVos’ confirmation on Tuesday, citing her lack of personal or professional interaction with public schools. Following the confirmation vote, Sen. Maggie Hassan, D-N.H., vowed to “fight any effort” from the new secretary that might weaken public schools.
“The secretary of education should have the broad backing of a range of communities, and it’s clear from the unprecedented nature of a tie-breaking Vice Presidential vote that Mrs. DeVos does not have the support she needs,” Hassan said in a statement. “All students, regardless of personal circumstances, have a right to a free and appropriate public education and I will do everything in my power to protect this fundamental right.”
Hassan had pressed DeVos during a heated confirmation hearing last month about whether she would safeguard educational access for students with disabilities. DeVos’ limited answer spurred the senator, whose son has cerebral palsy, to ask if she was aware that such protections were federal law.
“I may have confused it,” DeVos answered at the time, according to the Concord Monitor.