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One billionaire education reformer about another: DeVos is 'unprepared and unqualified'

In some ways, Eli Broad and Betsy DeVos are remarkably similar. Both billionaires, they champion charter schools and devote considerable sums to the cause.

They both grew up in Michigan. DeVos was born to a billionaire business owner and married another, Dick DeVos, whose father co-founded Amway. Born to Lithuanian immigrants, Broad became a billionaire, building two Fortune 500 companies, SunAmerica Inc. and KB Home (formerly Kaufman and Broad Home Corporation).

But Broad does not believe DeVos should be confirmed as U.S. education secretary, declaring in a letter to U.S. senators she is neither qualified nor prepared.

Broad's letter comes in a week where two Republican senators broke with the GOP pack and announced they will not vote for DeVos. Sens. Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska say she lacks the experience to lead the federal education agency.

The Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation has given $590 million to schools and students. One of the foundation's principles: "We believe public schools must remain public."

DeVos, on the other hand, endorses privatization, saying,  “We think of the educational choice movement as involving many parts: vouchers and tax credits, certainly, but also virtual schools, magnet schools, homeschooling, and charter schools.”

The Broad Foundation created the prestigious Broad Prize for Urban Education, which came with a $1 million award. Gwinnett County Public Schools won in 2014 and 2010. (The award program was suspended in 2015.) Broad has handed out $123 million in public school improvement grants and $16 million in college scholarships. Charter schools supported by his foundation educate 109,000 students.

Here is his letter to senators about why DeVos should not be approved:

The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee vote yesterday to refer President Trump’s nominee for U.S. Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos, to the full Senate for confirmation was surprising and disappointing. I am writing to urge you to vote against Mrs. DeVos’s confirmation. Like many Americans, including public school educators and parents, I watched the committee’s confirmation hearing with dismay. While I have never met Mrs. DeVos, she undoubtedly is kind and well-intended and cares deeply about children, as evidenced by her philanthropic work. However, these personal characteristics do not qualify someone for the massive responsibility of overseeing the education of our nation’s students. I am a big believer in high-quality public schools and strong accountability for all public schools, traditional and charter.

Before Mrs. DeVos’s hearing, I had serious concerns about her support for unregulated charter schools and vouchers as well as the potential conflicts of interest she might bring to the job. Her testimony not only reinforced my concerns but also added to them. I now also question her ability to enforce key provisions of the range of federal statutes entrusted to this role. Indeed, with Betsy DeVos at the helm of the U.S. Department of Education, much of the good work that has been accomplished to improve public education for all of America’s children could be undone.

At the risk of stating the obvious, we must have a Secretary of Education who believes in public education and the need to keep public schools public. We must have a Secretary of Education who will vigorously defend the rights of all students to have safe, fair and equitable learning opportunities and who recognizes the critical role of the Department of Education’s Office of

Civil Rights. And after far too many school shootings in this country, we must have a Secretary of Education who believes guns have no place in our schools. In short, I believe she is unprepared and unqualified for the position. As someone who is deeply committed to the belief that all children deserve access to a strong public education, I hope you will join me in opposing Mrs. DeVos’s nomination


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About the Author

Maureen Downey has written editorials and opinion pieces about local, state and federal education policy since the 1990s.