*Please see below for a statement from Delaware Senator Brian Pettyjohn in regards to this letter.
This morning, Delaware State Rep. Kim Williams published a letter from several state legislators around the country supporting Betsy DeVos in her nomination for the United States Secretary of Education. Senators Anthony DelCollo, Greg Lavelle, Ernie Lopez, Brian Pettyjohn, and Gary Simpson represented the Delaware contingent of these signatures. I am publicly asking these five Delaware Republican Senators to withdraw their support for Mrs. DeVos.
Last week, DeVos had her Senate Confirmation hearing. She did not know the difference between growth and proficiency. She supported guns in schools to prevent grizzly bear attacks. She stated when she was first nominated that she supported dismantling Common Core, but history with the DeVos Foundation suggests otherwise. She is a fervent supporter of school vouchers which have the strong potential to further issues of discrimination and segregation in American schools the way they are currently set up in many states. She supports charter schools which have not shown to be a greater success unless the pull smarter students in through selective enrollment preferences despite the legality of those preferences in many states. But most disappointing was DeVos inability to understand that the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, known as IDEA, is a federal law, not a state and local law.
As a father of a student with disabilities, I was appalled when Betsy DeVos said this. The U.S. Secretary of Education is a person who leads all American students in public education. The last thing we need is someone who does not understand special education going into the job. DeVos is a billionaire but her ability to lead education in America is disturbing on many levels.
I have found myself in alignment with many bills that Pettyjohn and Lopez supported. They stood with parents during the opt out saga. They did not support the Smarter Balanced Assessment. Which is why I find their support of DeVos puzzling. Education has become synonymous with standardized testing. Students with disabilities do the poorest on these tests. But they are expected to show the most “growth” in state accountability systems. As a result, in my opinion, special education has become a gigantic mess. It is now geared more towards the student outcomes on these tests than accommodating the true needs of each individual student. If DeVos has her way, students with disabilities could be shuffled around different private schools through a very flawed school voucher system. Private schools are not obligated to follow federal special education law unless they receive federal education funds. Special education in public schools can be challenging enough, adding private schools to that mix with federal dollars could become a recipe for disaster for a population that is already marginalized to a great extent.
Once again, I urge these five Delaware Republican Senators to withdraw their support for Betsy DeVos as U.S. Secretary of Education. Our children deserve better. Students with disabilities deserve better. And my son deserves better.
**UPDATED**5:16pm: I spoke with Senator Pettyjohn about this issue shortly after I posted this article. He echoed the statement he made on Facebook, which said:
Kevin, I agreed to support Betsy DeVos for her nomination to lead the US Department of Education based on my belief that an outsider view of the US DOE is necessary. In previous statements, Ms. DeVos had indicated her disdain for the Department and it’s overburdensome policies and regulations toward states and local districts. I have, for some time, been critical of the federal intrusion into our classrooms, and prior to Ms. DeVos’ confirmation hearings, those were concerns that she had also viewed with a critical eye.
That being said, I do have concerns that have been brought to light since her confirmation hearings; especially concerning her stance on special education. While this is an issue that our United States Senators will be faced with in the coming days, I believe that the letter that was sent, which I agreed to sign before the confirmation hearings took place, will have relatively little impact on the decision that will ultimately be made on Capitol Hill.
That Senate Confirmation hearing took a lot of folks by surprise. In my eyes, it just proved that vast amounts of wealth does not always equal knowledge. DeVos will face a vote for her nomination next Tuesday, January 31st.