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Connecticut Educators Weigh Betsy DeVos's Lack of Experience

US Department of Education
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The selection of billionaire Betsy DeVos to head the U.S. Department of Education has ignited a debate over her lack of experience, and whether it could be good or bad. 

DeVos has been billed as an outsider. She has no experience with public education. But many of her supporters say that’s a good thing. 

“Betsy DeVos is going to be able to learn on the job, she has no choice," said Ronelle Swagerty on WNPR’s Where We Live. Swagerty runs a charter school in Bridgeport called New Beginnings Family Academy.

“Now is hear learning curve going to be huge? Yes. Is it insurmountable? No," Swagerty said. "She can surround herself with strong smart, traditional and nontraditional educators who can help her be successful as our education secretary.”

DeVos has been an outspoken advocate for school choice, which involves using public money for private and charter schools. Swagerty said she learned how to be an educator through on-the-job training at her charter school, and DeVos should be able to do the same.  

But not everyone agreed. West Haven teacher Patty Fusco said DeVos lacks basic understanding of fundamental education principles. 

“This is the first education secretary in my career that has no public link to education," Fusco said. "I’ve never seen that before. And I was really very surprised and very concerned. Because unless you are involved in the schools, you don’t really know what’s going on with them.” 

DeVos has also been criticized for her lack of understanding of federal special education law, and some have questioned whether she understands the needs of English language learners. 

“Our kids are amazing, but they come with a lot more than just  — they’re not little robots that you program," Fusco said. "And I was concerned that she would not understand that. Especially after the confirmation hearings, I became even more concerned.”

DeVo’s authority is limited. The federal education department spends about $70 billion a year on education, which is only about eight percent of total spending. Most money comes from states and local districts, and last year, federal lawmakers passed a bipartisan education law that gave even more power back to states and local districts.  

Copyright 2017 Connecticut Public

David covers education and related topics for WNPR, and also mentors high school seniors who attend the Journalism and Media Academy magnet school in Hartford as part of Connecticut Public Broadcasting’s Learning Lab initiative.