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In New York, Mixed Reaction To DeVos' Confirmation

Maria Danilova
Protesters gather outside Jefferson Middle School in Washington on Friday where Education Secretary Betsy DeVos paid her first visit as education secretary in a bid to mend fences with educators after a bruising confirmation battle.

Betsy DeVos was confirmed as the U.S. secretary of education earlier this week, despite massive opposition from public school educators. The reaction to the appointment has been mixed in New York State.

DeVos brings up a range of emotions across the political spectrum, from fury to cautious hope.

Her opponents jammed Senate phone lines, and those who got through weren’t being shy about their feelings

Carl Korn of the New York State United Teachers union has harsh words for DeVos.

“In confirming Betsy DeVos, the Senate has put into office a dangerous ideologue with no qualifications or experience.”  

DeVos advocates for school voucher programs and charter schools, and has donated millions of dollars to Michigan state legislators to try to transform the public school system.

She now wants to bring that change to the entire nation. DeVos and her family have donated millions to the Republican Party since 1982, and nearly a million dollars to 21 current Republican senators.

Opponents argue that she has hollowed out the public schools in Michigan, but her supporters say that teachers’ unions are overreacting, and that the issue is all about school choice.

James Cultrara of the New York State Catholic Conference, which represents 500 Catholic schools, says that her opponents will be pleasantly surprised.

“She in fact is not an opponent to public education, she’s not out to destroy public education. That she wants the best for all children regardless of where they go to school but that she firmly believes, as we do, that it's the right and responsibility of the parents to make those decisions.”

Most charter school advocates are happy with her confirmation but Raymond J. Ankrum of the Riverhead Charter School remains cautious.

Ankrum says the voucher system may not work in places like Long Island, where schools are heavily segregated.

“My fear is that it’ll be segregating the school systems all over again. If you have an affluent school district that’s majority white, and you have students coming in from poor school districts that are minority students. I’m just thinking about the opposition that will be in place.”

The fight over Devos’ nomination has put education into the spotlight, and advocates on all sides of the issue are looking to galvanize the grassroots support into political action.

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