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Secretary of Education

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How is it possible that every single Democrat thinks Betsy DeVos, the newly minted secretary of education is woefully unqualified for the position and every single Republican — except for Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Susan Collins of Maine — thinks she’s worthy of the job?

President Trump came to Washington to drain the swamp and to reinvent politics but, at least as far as DeVos goes, this seems like politics as usual. Does this vote presage an era when Republicans and Democrats will, for the most part, stick with the party line, whatever that is?

For the Democrats, is it more important to stand against a secretary the Republicans see as worthy? For the Republicans, did they not see any risk to the education system, or was it more important to stand with Trump?

This country is far from unified, as we demonstrated in November. It’s only gotten worse since then. Both sides are digging in their heels even deeper, preparing for a tug-of-war over the future of the nation.

We are living in a world of facts, alternative facts, fake news and fake tweets. The reality, however, is that we are a house divided. A 51-50 vote makes that resoundingly clear. Wasn’t it Abraham Lincoln who said that a house divided unto itself cannot stand?

Is there a middle ground? Are there ways to walk a mile in each other’s shoes, to see the world through a different perspective or, at least, to respect the process and make independent decisions?

Do we elect our officials so they’ll vote along party lines? If that’s the case, who are we electing? Shouldn’t these senators represent our interests and not demonstrate some loyalty to a party whose entire platform might not be consistent with what We the People believe?

Events in Washington are unprecedented. DeVos is in, thanks to the tiebreaker courtesy of Vice President Mike Pence who voted with his party and with his president.

If I were a political leader from my state, I might take this unprecedented period of discord and find a way to reach across the aisle to my adversaries. It’s not just for the good of the country, it would be a career maker. Imagine if a bill, a person or a policy had bipartisan support?

Suddenly, we’re not the Shepherdsons and Grangerfords, the Hatfields and McCoys, or the Montagues and the Capulets. Someone, somewhere needs to find a friend in Washington and, no, I don’t mean a dog who can co-sponsor legislation and demonstrate true leadership.

Pick an issue, any issue. Job growth? Sure, it’s one of the main items on Trump’s agenda. Education? Well, sure, that’d be nice, but we seem to have come to reached a chasm wider than the Grand Canyon with the approval of DeVos.

Maybe a Democrat and Republican can co-sponsor a way to support the military? Both sides appreciate, support and respect the men and women who protect our nation. It was also the military that beat back the guilt-by-association tactics of Republican Sen. Joseph McCarthy in the early 1950s during the Red Scare.

Let’s raise that flag together and salute the men and women we all cheer during Veterans Day parades, and who we stand and salute at sporting events for their service to our country.

These challenging times present unique opportunities. The future leaders of this nation will be the ones who can show a readiness to get along and think for themselves. A Trump presidency should free other politicians to believe in themselves and their ideas and find other leaders, even someone from the other side, to work for our common good.

President Donald Trump’s pick for secretary of education Betsy DeVos has been met with opposition from North Shore educators. Photo from Senate committee website

Many North Shore superintendents and educators are concerned with President Donald Trump’s (R) nominee for secretary of education: Betsy DeVos, chairman of The Windquest Group, a privately-held investment and management firm based in Michigan, to serve as secretary of education. According to her website, the Michigan resident has a history in politics spanning more than 35 years. She was elected as chairman of the Michigan Republican Party four times, and worked in a leadership capacity for campaigns, party organizations and political action committees, her website states.

DeVos went before the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions for a confirmation hearing Jan. 17.

“Any programs and initiatives that attempt to weaken public education by diverting funds away from it … do not have my support.”

—Paul Casciano

“I share President-elect Trump’s view that it’s time to shift the debate from what the system thinks is best for kids to what moms and dads want, expect and deserve,” DeVos said during her opening remarks at the hearing. “Why, in 2017, are we still questioning parents’ ability to exercise educational choice for their children? I am a firm believer that parents should be empowered to choose the learning environment that’s best for their individual children. The vast majority of students in this country will continue to attend public schools. If confirmed, I will be a strong advocate for great public schools. But, if a school is troubled, or unsafe, or not a good fit for a child — perhaps they have a special need that is going unmet — we should support a parent’s right to enroll their child in a high-quality alternative.”

DeVos’ views on public education created a stir around the country, and superintendents from the North Shore and county as a whole joined the chorus of those skeptical about the direction she might take the country’s education system.

“I have devoted my entire adult life to public education and believe it is the bedrock of our democracy,” Port Jefferson school district Superintendent Paul Casciano said in an email. “Any programs and initiatives that attempt to weaken public education by diverting funds away from it or that offer alternatives that are not subjected to the same strict standards and scrutiny that public schools must live by, do not have my support.”

Kings Park Superintendent Tim Eagen echoed many of Casciano’s concerns.

“I find President Trump’s nomination for Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos, to be unacceptable,” he said in an email. “Education in this country is at an important crossroads. As an educational leader and parent of two public school students, it is my goal to provide our children with a globally competitive, rigorous, relevant and challenging education that will prepare them to be active, contributing members of society.”

“As an educational leader and parent of two public school students, it is my goal to provide our children with a globally competitive, rigorous, relevant and challenging education.”

—Tim Eagan

Eagen also has concerns about DeVos’ qualifications.

“I believe that Betsy DeVos is unqualified to run the U.S. Department of Education,” he said. “She is a businesswoman and politician without any experience in public service or public education. She does not have an education degree, has no teaching experience, has no experience working in a school environment, never attended public school or a state university, and did not send her own four children to public school.”

Middle Country Central School District  Superintendent Roberta Gerold stressed that she does not support the appointment of DeVos, stating that she believes all of DeVos’ actions to date evidence a lack of support for, and understanding of public education.

“I was disappointed with her answers during the hearing – she didn’t appear to do much, if any, homework,” Gerold said. “She couldn’t seem to, for example, understand or explain the difference between growth and proficiency — very basic concepts. And her answer to whether guns should be allowed in schools — please.”

The superintendent said, though, that she is most disappointed that DeVos would even be considered for the position.

“It seems clear to me that this is purely a political appointment, not an appointment that recognizes merit or values authentic education,” Gerold said. “John King — who I don’t believe was a great champion of public education, at least had credentials that deserved respect. The new nominee does not. It’s worrisome and disconcerting….and insulting to the public education system, K–12 and beyond.”

She said her teachers, several who are community residents, are preparing a petition that requests the board of education adopt of resolution in opposition to the appointment.

“I was disappointed with her answers during the hearing – she didn’t appear to do much, if any, homework.”

—Roberta Georld

“I believe that our board will be supportive of that request,” she said. “I know that our board president is in agreement with opposing the nomination.”

The Miller Place school district’s administration and board of education drafted and passed a resolution opposing DeVos’ appointment. Superintendent Marianne Cartisano addressed the appointment in an open letter on the district’s website.

“Our concerns are twofold,” she said. “The first reservation we have is regarding the candidate’s lack of first-hand experience as an educator or administrator within the public school system. Since the majority of the children in the United States are currently being educated within the public school system, we feel that this experience is very important for an effective Secretary of Education.”

Cartisano elaborated on her other issues with DeVos.

“Her record also shows a clear bias towards private, parochial and charter schools and the use of vouchers to attend these schools,” Cartisano said. “This bias leads us to our second overarching concern with Betsy DeVos as a candidate for Secretary of Education. The concern is that Betsy DeVos has been a strong advocate for the use of public funds to attend private schools through vouchers, and this would have a direct negative impact on our public school system’s fiscal stability if it is put into effect on a national level.”

The committee will vote to either approve or deny DeVos’ nomination Jan. 31.

Victoria Espinoza and Desirée Keegan contributed reporting.