By RYAN QUINN
CHARLESTON, W.Va. — West Virginia’s U.S. senators indicated Wednesday they won’t agree during the upcoming confirmation vote for Betsy DeVos, President Donald Trump’s nominee for U.S. Education Secretary.
“As a former Governor, I understand how crucial it is for an executive leader to have his team in place, but I have serious concerns about the qualifications of Betsy DeVos,” Sen. Joe Manchin, a Democrat, said in a news release. He noted DeVos’ support for “school choice” measures, including charter schools and vouchers to attend private schools, including religious schools.
“This approach does not match the needs of our rural communities in West Virginia and would pull already limited public school resources from the schools, students and teachers that need them most,” Manchin said. “… The needs facing rural schools in West Virginia are unique and her lack of exposure to public education is very concerning for me. We need an Education Secretary who has an understanding of the needs of all children, including those with disabilities, and is committed to ensuring they receive a quality education. Every child in West Virginia deserves a quality education and I do not believe that Betsy DeVos is qualified to serve in this role, which is so vital to the future of our state.”
The New York Times reported Wednesday that Manchin is one of four Democratic senators who have voted in favor of confirming all six of Trump’s cabinet nominees so far. The paper also reported that 49 of the Senate’s 52 Republicans voted for each of Trump’s nominees so far. All six were confirmed.
Amy Graham, a spokeswoman for Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., wrote in an email that Capito “will vote to confirm Betsy DeVos and looks forward to working with her to improve education for every student in every West Virginia school.
“As a passionate advocate for children and learning, Betsy DeVos has devoted herself to improving education in her home state of Michigan and across the country.”
The Washington Post reported that the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions voted along party lines Tuesday to further DeVos’ confirmation on to a future vote of the full Senate. But two Republicans on the committee, Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, said they planned to vote against DeVos in the full Senate.
The Post reported that this suggests DeVos’ confirmation is “not assured.”
Participating in the call were Patricia Levesque, chief executive of the Foundation for Excellence in Education; Delegate Paul Espinosa, R-Jefferson, chairman of the West Virginia House Education Committee and an advocate of school choice measures; and Jim Shaffer, founder of the Public Policy Foundation of West Virginia.
The Foundation for Excellence in Education’s board is chaired by the organization’s founder — former Florida governor and presidential candidate Jeb Bush, a charter school supporter.
The board includes fellow high-ranking Republicans Condoleezza Rice, the former U.S. secretary of state, and Eric Cantor, the former U.S. House majority leader. The organization supported bringing the new and controversial A-F grading system for entire schools to West Virginia.
“I’ve known Betsy for more than a dozen years,” Levesque said in the call. “She is smart, she is capable, her only agenda is getting disadvantaged students into schools that are best for them.”
“Sen. Manchin, as a former governor of West Virginia, I think would appreciate the importance of being able to assemble his own team,” said Espinosa.
As he has in the past, Espinosa said Wednesday that supporting school choice and supporting public schools is not an “either-or proposition.” Generally, the state school aid funding formula automatically drops funding for county public school systems that lose enrollment.
He said he doesn’t believe there’s evidence that school choice measures have a “tremendous financial impact” on public schools because he said the vast majority of parents keep their students in traditional public schools even if choice options are offered.
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