Teachers have been calling and emailing their senators in unprecedented numbers, and those senators are taking notice.
U.S. Senator Chris Murphy told the more than 100 teachers who joined him in New Haven Friday afternoon that his office has received an incredible 13,000 calls in opposition to Betsy DeVos’ nomination for U.S. Secretary of Education.
“Teachers are known for being great listeners,” said one educator in the crowd. “But we feel like there’s a nominee for Secretary of Education who’s not listening.”
DeVos has been at the center of widespread criticism over her absence of experience and lack of knowledge regarding public education, as well as her vow to privatize schools.
Along with other senators who serve on the Senate’s education committee, Murphy questioned DeVos at a confirmation hearing last month where, he recalled, several legislators were cut off when the nominee’s lack of knowledge about IDEA and other major aspects of education law and policy became shockingly apparent.
“This was a candidate who fundamentally did not know the law,” Murphy said. “She did not know education law.”
Murphy told the standing-room-only crowd of educators in New Haven that calls came in not only from teachers—whose concerns about DeVos are widely known—but from “parents who are freaked out by someone who called public schools a dead end.”
He added, “I’ve never seen anything like this.”
Senator Richard Blumenthal shares Murphy’s dismay at DeVos’ complete lack of qualifications.
Monday morning at a news conference at the Legislative Office Building in Hartford he told teachers and reporters, “Rarely has a nominee for the United States Cabinet been so unqualified, unknowledgeable, and unprepared. This nomination is a disgrace to American education.”
‘We need to be in this all together’
Among other things—including her record on LGBTQ rights and her decades-long push for unaccountable charter schools—Murphy decried DeVos’ plans to “push money out of the hands of public schools and into the hands of billionaire investors,” adding, “Let’s be honest—they’re not in it to educate kids. I don’t want the profit motive to have anything to do with educating our kids.”
“Betsy DeVos has sought to defund and privatize public schools,” Blumenthal said.
Murphy added, “I’m in this on your behalf, and I’m going to fight like hell between now and Tuesday,” when the vote to confirm DeVos is scheduled to take place.
“Right now the votes are evenly split, 50 for her nomination, and 50 against,” Blumenthal said Monday morning. “The vice president would have to break the tie, unless we can convince one of the senators that currently supports her to come over to our side—which we hope to do.”
If DeVos is confirmed, Murphy and Blumenthal pledged to continue fighting for teachers, students, and public education.
“I will not stop after this vote is over. We’ll need to be in this all together,” Murphy said. Calling the recent groundswell a “revolt among parents and educators,” he urged teachers to “start planning and activating for what comes next.”
Bridgeport fourth-grade teacher Robert Traber, one of the educators who came out to hear Murphy speak, said, “I’m here to show appreciation for the senator’s work and to debunk the education reformer myth that public schools have failed.” While he acknowledged that there are underperforming schools, he also pointed out that Connecticut’s schools on the whole are some of the best in the world.
North Haven teacher and local Association president Tom Marak joined Blumenthal at the press conference Monday morning and thanked the senator for listening to teachers and parents. He pointed out that DeVos has not been willing to commit to holding all educational institutions to the same standards.
“We can’t forget that the people who will be hurt by this are the students in this country,” Marak said.
“Senator Murphy gets it,” said NEA Director and Bridgeport teacher Gary Peluchette, who, along with fellow NEA Director and Westport teacher John Horrigan, attended the press conference in New Haven.
“I’m thrilled by his responses and his willingness to participate in back-home meetings with us,” Horrigan said. He added that DeVos has demonstrated a “pathetic ignorance about what public schools are. How can we have someone running public education who doesn’t understand public education?”
Waterbury Teachers Association President Kevin Egan also came out of a growing concern over Devos’ characterization of public education as a dead end. “As an advocate for teachers, parents, and students,” he said, “that concerns me deeply.”
Horrigan added, “It’s time to stop talking only to each other and start talking to legislators—people who make decisions.”