Philadelphia public ed activists voice opposition to DeVos

Sam Newhouse

As President Donald Trump’s secretary of education nominee was preparing to learn her fate before the Senate, activists in Philadelphia were rallying to try and stop her.

Betsy DeVos, selected by Trump to lead the Department of Education, is known for championing charter schools in Detroit. She has taken plenty of heat for her stance in Philly, where many education activists have challenged the advance of charter schools.

“If confirmed, Betsy DeVos would be disastrous for all students — especially for students with disabilities,” said City Councilwoman Helen Gym at a news conference Wednesday.“DeVos’ stated intention to roll back IDEA [Individuals with Disabilities Education] supports and water down federal oversight of students’ civil rights disqualifies her to lead the Department of Education.”

Gym was joined by other activists in hand-delivering a letter to the Philadelphia office of Republican Sen. Pat Toomey that asks him to vote against confirming Devos.

“The decision to confirm DeVos is now one for Pat Toomey, who must live up to his promise not to be a rubber stamp for Donald Trump and the out-of-touch GOP leadership,” Gym said in a statement. “She’s the wrong choice for our students and the wrong choice for our commonwealth.”

Toomey previously told the Washington Post he is “all for” DeVos, as her Senate confirmation vote neared.

Philadelphia Federation of Teachers president Jerry Jordan previously blasted DeVos as “a billionaire activist who has spent millions to promote the expansion of private school voucher programs and charter schools.”

Jordan continued: “She has absolutely no experience in public education, even going so far as to call our nation’s public schools a ‘dead end.’”

Activists rallying Wednesday focused on DeVos’ comments about IDEA, in which she said that the treatment of students with disabilities in schools was “best left to the states” and later indicated she may have been “confused” about the fact that IDEA is a binding federal law. The activists’ letter accused DeVos of intending to “dilute federal protections for students with disabilities.”

DeVos’ pro-charter school stance isn’t popular in Philadelphia, either. Facing steep budget deficits, the School District of Philadelphia closed 37 schools citywide in 2012.

Meanwhile, the efficacy of charter schools in Philadelphia has been questioned by some and a few have become mired in corruption probes.

Pro-charter school advocacy groups in the Philadelphia area have not been outspoken about supporting DeVos. But the West Chester-based Pennsylvania Coalition of Public Charter Schools signed an open letter that endorsed DeVos as an “undisputed champion of families and students.”

PCPCS Executive Director Robert Fayfich previously told the Philadelphia Public School Notebook that DeVos would definitely support accountability at charters.

“Both districts and charters are spending public money, and they need to be accountable for performance and financial stewardship,” Fayfich told the Notebook. “But one size doesn’t fit all, and accountability has to be relative to the mission.”

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