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Heitkamp: Rural students deserve better than DeVos

By Staff | Feb 10, 2017

NOTE: The following column was submitted prior to Betsy DeVos’confirmation vote earlier this week. DeVos was confirmed with Vice President Mike Pence providing the tie-breaking vote.

North Dakota understands the importance of public schools.

Growing up in Mantador, I went to elementary school with a class of 13 other small town kids, and graduated in Hankinson with a class of almost 60. None of us came from much, but we all had a distinctly American opportunity that North Dakotans valued then, and that North Dakotans value today. We had the opportunity to learn, to achieve, and to become anything we wanted.

Betsy DeVos, President Trump’s nominee to lead the U.S. Department of Education, would be a disaster for those public schools in North Dakota and across the country. Look no further than her U.S. Senate confirmation hearing. DeVos made it clear that she doesn’t understand the importance of public schools, and didn’t rule out privatizing them. She failed to grasp basic education policy, and showed a severe lack of knowledge about rural public schools that are the backbone of our state. She also showed she doesn’t understand current federal laws to support and protect students with disabilities.

North Dakota students, teachers, and parents deserve better.

Over the past few weeks my office has received almost 4,600 phone calls, emails, and letters from North Dakotans about Cabinet-level nominees. More than half of the comments that flooded in were on DeVos’ nomination-and North Dakotans overwhelmingly rejected her. Citing her lack of understanding of public schools, 92 percent of the more than 2,300 North Dakotans who gave me feedback about DeVos’ nomination oppose her becoming Education Secretary. Only six percent supported her.

Students, parents, and teachers across the state shared serious, vocal concerns.

“She should not get this job with no experience in education other than trying to get rid of public schools,” wrote Patricia, from Bottineau County.

Judith from Cass County agreed: “DeVos has no public education experience or training of any kind; she has never been a teacher or school administrator, served on any public board of education, or even attended a public school.”

“We need a leader at the U.S. Department of Education who supports students, teachers, and public schools,” Amber of Burleigh County told me. “Unfortunately, Betsy DeVos wants to dismantle public schools.”

What I heard during DeVos’ hearing was deeply troubling, and bipartisan agreement on that has grown. Already, two Republican senators have committed to opposing her nomination. Only one more Republican senator has to reject DeVos-and reject how she would hurt our public schools-to prevent her from being in charge of schools across this country.

I’m the product of a good public school education. So are my six siblings, and my two kids. In communities across the country, and particularly in small, rural communities like the 90-person town where I grew up, public schools and hardworking teachers who inspire students are vital. They help guarantee all North Dakota students can achieve anything-including becoming a U.S. senator.

But Betsy DeVos wants to do away with the public schools that have made North Dakota and so many other states proud.

North Dakotans have stood up and said “no” to Betsy DeVos’ nomination. They don’t want her to lead an agency that supports this country’s most valuable, precious resource-our children.

The U.S Senate has a duty to make the right choice so we don’t have an Education Secretary who doesn’t believe in our public schools.

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