February 07, 2017

Congressional leaders comment on DeVos confirmation | WeAreWVProud.com

For many communities in West Virginia, our schools are more than just classrooms, teachers and textbooks. Our children in West Virginia learn more from their public schools than reading, writing and arithmetic. They’re the heart of the community and a home away from home. They’re a safe place to stay after school where no harm will come to you. They’re a place where nutritional meals are served and healthcare services are provided by trusted school nurses. With the stakes this high, I unfortunately cannot support Betsy DeVos to be our next Secretary of Education.

As your former Governor, I understand how crucial it is for an executive leader to put together his team. But after meeting with Betsy DeVos, and watching her answer questions at her confirmation hearing, I do not believe she has the qualifications to be the Secretary of Education. With the economic challenges our state is facing and the future of our state dependent on our next generation, we cannot afford to play political games with our education.

Like most West Virginians, I believe in local control of education, and also that strong public schools are vital to our state’s future. Betsy DeVos has spent her entire career advocating for public school vouchers and charter schools. This approach does not match the needs of our rural communities in West Virginia. In our state, charter schools and school vouchers would pull already limited public school resources from the schools, students and teachers that need them most. It’s for this reason that Republicans and Democrats in our own West Virginia state legislature have refused to approve these programs. I believe communities in West Virginia know our student’s needs better than someone who never attended or worked in a public school.

The needs facing rural schools in West Virginia are unique and her lack of exposure to public education is very concerning for me. During her hearing, Mrs. DeVos demonstrated a lack of knowledge about basic issues in public education, including the debate about how best to measure student progress. She also did not appear to have a grasp on the amount of student loan debt in this country, which is now the second-largest source of consumer debt in the United States, surpassed only by home mortgages. Not only does she lack this institutional knowledge, but she has no personal or family experience with the student loan system or any experience running a major loan program, like the one she would be in charge of as Secretary of Education. This leads me to believe that she would be unable to run this program effectively and efficiently.

As both a Governor and a father, I could never look a parent in the eyes and tell them that their child could not get the same education as another child simply because they suffer from a disability. No child should ever be denied access to the same public education because they suffer from a disability. West Virginians need an Education Secretary who has an understanding of the needs of all children, including those with disabilities, and is committed to ensuring they receive a quality education. At her hearing, Mrs. DeVos failed to recognize that the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) is a federal law protecting access for individuals with disabilities to a decent public education and that she would be in charge of ensuring that school implemented the act. And with 16 percent of the students in our state having special education needs, West Virginia families deserve a Secretary of Education who will protect their child’s access to a quality education.

A strong education is the building block for success for every child and the foundation for our country’s long-term economic strength. We need to do more at every level to ensure that all of our children receive a high-quality, well-rounded education that prepares them for college and a career. This includes choosing the right person to lead our Department of Education and Betsy DeVos does not make the grade in West Virginia.