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Peters won’t back DeVos for education post

Melissa Nann Burke
Detroit News Washington Bureau

Washington — Sen. Gary Peters, a Democrat from Bloomfield Township, said Tuesday he won’t support the nomination of Michigan’s Betsy DeVos to helm the U.S. Department of Education.

Most Senate Democrats have indicated that they have problems with west Michigan school choice advocate Betsy DeVos, but Republicans hold a 52-seat majority in the chamber. No Republican has indicated any problems with the DeVos nomination.

“Mrs. DeVos’ resume contains no experience in public education at any level – not as a teacher, not as an administrator, not as a student or parent, not as a school board member and not even as a borrower of public loans for college,” Peters said in a Tuesday floor speech.

“Her only experience in education is her work lobbying for the transfer of taxpayer money to private schools and the rapid expansion of charter schools without sufficient accountability to parents and students.”

Peters said he also had concerns following DeVos’ hearing before the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor & Pensions, where she appeared “unfamiliar with some basic educational concepts,” such as how whether to measure student success by growth or proficiency.

He also disagreed with DeVos’ statement that public charter schools should not be held to the same standards as traditional public schools.

“That simply does not make sense,” Peters said. “We should hold all schools receiving federal dollars to the same level of accountability.”

Charter advocates have argued that these alternative public schools don’t have the same powers as traditional public schools, which include raising taxes to increase spending or construct new schools.

DeVos’ nomination is set for a Jan. 31 vote before the Senate education committee. If she is approved by the committee, her appointment next goes to the full Senate for a vote. Michigan’s senior senator, Debbie Stabenow of Lansing, also plans to vote against DeVos.

A billionaire from the Grand Rapids area, DeVos is a businesswoman and former two-time chair of the Michigan Republican Party. She and the DeVos family also have donated to national Republicans for decades.

Until recently, she led the American Federation for Children, a Washington, D.C.-based organization devoted to expanding school of choice options.

Democrats and labor unions have objected to her nomination, arguing that DeVos would undermine the traditional public school system to promote charter, private and other education options.

mburke@detroitnews.com