EDITORIAL: Senators Durbin and Duckworth, Vote “NO” on DeVos Nomination

The following is a letter that Colby Huff, owner of MySocialJacksonville.com, sent to U.S. Senator Dick Durbin and U.S. Senator Tammy Duckworth on Thursday, January 19th, 2017.

Dear Senators Durbin and Duckworth:

I am writing to you today in response to the selection of Betsy DeVos as President-elect Donald Trump’s choice for Secretary of Education.

In short, it is my hope that you do not support Ms. DeVos for this important position in the Trump Administration. For the benefit of school children across the United States over the next four years and beyond, you simply cannot support the nomination of Ms. DeVos.

A Google search of the candidate’s background shows that she did not attend public schools growing up, nor did she choose to attend a state university as a college student. When it comes to her own children, Betsy DeVos has never chosen to send them to public schools. While I fully support the right of each parent in our nation to make the right choice for the education of their own child, I do not believe that it is in the best interests of our nation’s education system to place someone into such a powerful position who cannot relate to the choices and issues facing the overwhelming majority of families in the United States.

A number of items from her confirmation hearing this week could be discussed in this letter, but I will focus on just three, for the sake of brevity.

During her confirmation hearing this week, Ms. DeVos was asked if she had ever attended a public school and replied, “No, but I mentored in one once.” While this may be honorable as a volunteer activity, it does not come close to qualifying her to be the chief policy individual for our country’s public school system. No amount of “mentoring” can adequately prepare a person to make decisions that affect American families in a profound manner on a daily basis.

The candidate’s vocal support of charter schools is also troubling. Numerous studies and years of testing data have not shown charter schools to be any better at their job of educating children than a traditional public school – in fact, in many instances, charter schools perform worse than public schools and are little more than a money grab by the companies that operate them. Ms. DeVos also has conflicts of interest that would render her incapable of making decisions that are solely in the best interests of American school children and have no impact on her financial status.

As parents of one child approaching middle school and a toddler who will enter public schools before the end of President Trump’s first – and, hopefully, only – term, my wife and I have grave concerns for the future of public education, as it currently stands, in the State of Illinois. You are both very familiar with why we might feel this way, given the funding status of Illinois schools over the last dozen or more years, so I won’t rehash those reasons here. Illinois is in bad enough shape, in regard to public schools, without an individual of Betsy DeVos’ caliber making executive level decisions impacting the entire nation from an office in Washington, D.C.

Finally, I am repulsed by the candidate’s position regarding the IDEA Act. States must be made to comply with the Act, without question or modification. Our nation guarantees “certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness” by way of the Declaration of Independence. It is my opinion that you cannot have Liberty, nor the full ability to pursue Happiness, without an education. Our nation’s public schools – really, all schools, but the subject matter here is strictly public schools – must not be allowed to refuse to provide services to disabled students. They must not be able to refuse to provide services on the basis of abilities or backgrounds. All students have a right to education in their K-12 years via our nation’s public schools. The confirmation of Ms. DeVos, I believe, would put that right in grave danger.

Senators, you have a difficult task before you over the next four years. I do not envy you having to work with President Trump to attempt to do the work of the People of Illinois and the rest of the United States. I have no doubt that this is only the first of many constituent letters which you will receive regarding a Trump Administration policy or personnel appointment. I pray that you are able to vote your conscience and convince others to do the same and not give confirmation to Betsy DeVos as United States Secretary of Education.

I hope that this letter finds you well. Senator Durbin, as a member of the Springfield media, I have had opportunities to speak with you personally and on a candid basis. I remember fondly our brief conversation outside of the Hoogland Center for the Arts during President Obama’s visit last year. I believe you to be a brilliant person who has led a wonderful career in public service. Senator Duckworth, I appreciate your military service for our country and have strong hopes for your time in the Senate.

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