Today's news -- February 8, 2017



DeVos confirmed as education secretary; Pence breaks tie

Betsy DeVos, a wealthy Republican donor with almost no experience in public education, was confirmed by the Senate as the nation’s education secretary Tuesday, but only with the help of a historic tiebreaking vote from Vice President Mike Pence after weeks of protests and two defections within her own party. The 51-50 vote capped an all-night vigil on the Senate floor, where, one by one, Democrats denounced DeVos to a mostly empty chamber. But they did not get a third Republican defection that would have stopped DeVos — a billionaire who has devoted much of her life to promoting charter schools and vouchers — from becoming the steward of the nation’s nearly 100,000 public schools. It was the first time a vice president has been summoned to the Capitol to break a tie on a Cabinet nomination. Sen. Al Franken, Democrat of Minnesota, demanded before the vote that Republicans explain how they could support DeVos. “If we cannot set aside party loyalty long enough to perform the essential duty of vetting the president’s nominees, what are we even doing here?” Franken asked. The two Republicans who voted against the nominee, Sens. Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, said DeVos was unqualified because of a lack of familiarity with public schools and with laws meant to protect students. “I have serious concerns about a nominee to be secretary of education who has been so involved in one side of the equation, so immersed in the push for vouchers, that she may be unaware of what actually is successful within the public schools, and also what is broken and how to fix them,” Murkowski said last week when the two announced their opposition. Collins and Murkowski said they had also been influenced by thousands of messages they had received urging them to reject the nomination. For many educators, DeVos’ support for charter schools and vouchers — which allow students to use taxpayer dollars to pay tuition at private, religious and for-profit schools — reflected a deep disconnect from public schools. Neither DeVos nor any of her children attended a public school. Teachers’ unions and even some charter organizations had protested DeVos’s nomination across the country. Sen. Patty Murray of Washington, the top Democrat on the committee that approved DeVos — and a former educator herself — urged disheartened advocates Tuesday morning before the vote not to think of their efforts as a waste. “It’s made an impact here and made a difference,” she said. “And I think it’s woken each of us up in this country to what we value and what we want.” Shortly after DeVos’ confirmation, Randi Weingarten, the president of the American Federation of Teachers, a union that protested the nomination, said the public would now have to “serve as a check and balance” to her policies and be “fierce fighters on behalf of children.” “It’s telling that even when Trump had full control of the legislative and executive branches, he could only get DeVos confirmed by an unprecedented tiebreaking vote by his vice president,” Weingarten said. “That’s because DeVos shows an antipathy for public schools, a full-throttled embrace of private, for-profit alternatives and a lack of basic understanding of what children need to succeed in school.” David Kirkland, an education professor at New York University who has studied DeVos’ impact in Michigan, said he feared she could badly hurt public education and pull resources out of schools in need of federal funding. “Her extensive conflicts of interest and record of diverting money away from vulnerable students and into the pockets of the rich make DeVos completely unfit for the position she was just confirmed to,” he said. DeVos’ critics said they would continue to fight her as she serves. Some vowed to demonstrate at her appearances at forums and schools and to seek candidates friendly to their view to run for local office. Lily Eskelsen García, the president of the National Education Association, said her union would tap into the vast database of advocates it had built during DeVos’ confirmation process to help keep her in check. “As soon as she does something alarming, it will be known, it will be seen,” she said. “She won’t be able to hide.” In a final push that included demonstrations around the country, constituents and advocates swamped Senate offices with calls, so inundating the Capitol switchboard that it disrupted the Senate’s voice mail system. (Joanne McCall, Jean Clements, Mike Gandolfo and Missy Keller quoted) (Kathi Gundlach quoted) (Randi Weingarten and Lily Eskelsen García quoted) (Lily Eskelsen García quoted) (Randi Weingarten quoted) (Mark Pudlow quoted)

DeVos teaches the value of ignorance

“Government really sucks.” This belief, expressed by the just-confirmed education secretary, Betsy DeVos, in a 2015 speech to educators, may be the only qualification she needed for President Trump. DeVos is the perfect Cabinet member for a president determined to appoint officials eager to destroy the agencies they run and weigh the fate of policies and programs based on ideological considerations. She has never run, taught in, attended or sent a child to an American public school, and her confirmation hearings laid bare her ignorance of education policy and scorn for public education itself. She has donated millions to, and helped direct, groups that want to replace traditional public schools with charter schools and convert taxpayer dollars into vouchers to help parents send children to private and religious schools. While her nomination gave exposure to an honest and passionate debate about charter schools as an alternative to traditional public schools, her hard-line opposition to any real accountability for these publicly funded, privately run schools undermined their founding principle as well as her support. Even champions of charters, like the philanthropist Eli Broad and the Massachusetts Charter Public School Association, opposed her nomination. In DeVos, the decades-long struggle to improve public education gains no visionary leadership and no fresh ideas. Her appointment squanders an opportunity to advance public education research, experimentation and standards, to objectively compare traditional public school, charter school and voucher models in search of better options for public school students. The charter school movement started in the United States two decades ago with the promise that independently run, publicly funded schools would outperform traditional public schools if they were exempted from some state regulations. Charter pioneers also promised that, unlike traditional schools, which they said were allowed to perform disastrously without consequence, charters would be held accountable for improving student performance, and shut down if they failed. DeVos has spent tens of millions and many years in a single-minded effort to force her home state, Michigan, to replace public schools with privately run charters and to use vouchers to move talented students out of failing public schools. She has consistently fought legislation to stop failing charters from expanding, and lobbied to shut down the troubled Detroit public school system and channel the money to charter, private or religious schools, regardless of their performance. She also favors online private schools, an alternative that most leading educators reject as destructive to younger children’s need to develop peer relationships, and an industry prone to scams. In her Senate hearing, DeVos appeared largely ignorant of challenges facing college students, as well. She indicated that she was skeptical of Education Department policies to prevent fraud by for-profit colleges — a position favored, no doubt, by Trump, who just settled a fraud case against his so-called Trump University for $25 million. It was not clear that she understood how various student loan and aid programs worked, or could distinguish between them. In the end, only two Senate Republicans, Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, opposed DeVos, leaving Vice President Mike Pence to cast the tiebreaking vote. Maybe the others figured it wasn’t worth risking Trump’s wrath by rejecting his selection to lead a department that accounts for only about 3 percent of the federal budget. Maybe they couldn’t ignore the $200 million the DeVos family has funneled to Republicans, including campaigns of 10 of the 12 Republican senators on the committee that vetted her. The tens of thousands of parents and students who called, emailed and signed petitions opposing DeVos’ confirmation refused to surrender to Trump. They couldn’t afford to have a billionaire hostile to government run public schools that already underperform the rest of the developed world. Did anyone who backed this shameful appointment think about them?


Senators who opposed DeVos represent 36 million more people than her supporters


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Rubio took almost $100,000 from DeVos' family before confirming her


Nelson, Rubio split on DeVos nomination


DeVos confirmation as education secretary is a big victory for … Jeb!


The real education of DeVos


DeVos could be bad news for women’s sports


House overturns two Obama-era education regulations


GOP lawmaker proposes abolishing U.S. Department of Education


Judges question parent positions in challenge to third-grade retention law


Education funding gives Ingoglia a chance to prove he's not a politician


How an Orlando teacher shortage could hurt the local economy


First Amendment backing rises among high schoolers

Support among American high school students for the First Amendment is stronger today than it has been in the last 12 years, according to the latest in a series of large nationwide surveys of the nation’s rising voters. Some 91 percent of high school students say they believe that individuals should be allowed to express unpopular opinions, according to a Knight Foundation survey of nearly 12,000 students conducted last year. The survey is the sixth in a series, the first of which was carried out in 2004, when 83 percent supported such rights. “What we’ve seen since 2004 is a slow but steady increase in support,” said Kenneth Dautrich, the study’s lead author and the president of the Stats Group, a statistical and data services firm.


Preparing young americans for a complex world


Senate’s college reform plan has big problems, Lee says

A comprehensive plan by Florida Senate leaders to refocus the state college system back to its original purpose of offering two-year degrees and of being a pipeline for the state university system stumbled through its first hearing this week. The proposal (SB 374) is among a package of bills that are a priority for Senate President Joe Negron, R-Stuart, in his push to improve Florida’s higher education system this year. Senate leaders have dubbed SB 374 the “College Competitiveness Act,” which Sen. Bill Galvano -- a Bradenton Republican and top lieutenant of Negron in executing the higher ed reforms -- says will “provide independence and greater opportunity for advocacy and oversight” of Florida’s 28 state colleges, which includes Miami Dade and Broward colleges. But some aspects of the bill arguably would have the opposite effect -- namely by reining in the colleges’ freedom to add four-year degree programs and, in some cases, requiring legislative action to approve new four-year degrees. Other reforms in the 254-page proposal include removing the state colleges from the purview of the State Board of Education -- which oversees public education in grades K-20 -- and, instead, putting the colleges under a new State Board of Community Colleges. The measure advanced out of the Senate Education Committee on a unanimous vote Monday, with some senators -- although vocally disapproving of the plan -- resisting a “no” vote mainly as a show of good faith to Senate leadership. “I just think it’s not ready for prime-time,” said Sen. Tom Lee, a Thonotosassa Republican and former Senate president who asked a series of probing questions critical of the proposal. “I’m going to support it today out of deference to my Senate president, Sen. Galvano and Sen. Hukill [Dorothy Hukill, R-Port Orange, is the bill sponsor], but this bill has got big problems.”


American universities must take a stand


Senate advances bill that could chill access to public records


Appoint forward-looking Floridians to Constitution panel


Scott takes shots at Corcoran, House


Tallahassee's Republican war over incentives


House members’ project bills would add $708 million to state budget


Redistricting overhaul clears first Senate panel


Scott ignores legal aid for Floridians


Appeals court panel appears skeptical of Trump’s travel ban


Tribe on why the judiciary is “our last best hope”


Trump's “list” of terror attacks “under-reported” by the media is a cruel joke


Is news of terror attacks underplayed? Experts say no


Who needs spelling?


Spicer makes up Atlanta Islamist terror attack


How two refugees were vetted even before Trump’s travel ban


Trump’s immigration order requires bureaucrats to figure out who is Christian


How to make America greater: more immigration


Republican congressman says white terrorists are different


The terror trial we're really ignoring


Ill Iranian boy can’t get to West Palm Beach for treatment after Trump’s ban


Critics tossed from Miami-Dade meeting as they protest “sanctuary” detentions


Advocates: Orange must protect immigrants


Bondi: Trump's travel ban “absolutely” legal


Yemen withdraws permission for U.S. antiterror ground missions


Iran’s supreme leader thanks Trump for showing America’s “true face”


Homeland Security chief admits travel ban was rushed


Issues facing Republicans in replacing Affordable Care Act


Miami, Orlando top nation in Obamacare enrollment


House GOP votes to ax federal agency that prevents hacking of voting machines


Schumer says Gorsuch dodged tough questions in meeting


Seven things you need to know about Gorsuch


Two Florida House Democrats oppose Gorsuch


Next “nuclear option” could be impeachment of justices


Americans take an active role in their democracy, and pols can’t handle it


Your guide to the sprawling new anti-Trump resistance movement


Poll: Democrats want leaders to block Trump


It’s time for the Congressional Progressive Caucus to raise its game


Trump begins charm offensive of conservative Democrats


The labor movement must learn these lessons from the election


Puzder is an indefensible nominee who can and must be stopped


Can Trump's Labor nominee survive?


GOP votes to rebuke Warren, saying she impugned Sessions’ character


Here’s the Coretta Scott King letter McConnell suppressed


Trump’s EPA pick slapped with a lawsuit ahead of confirmation


A quiet giant of investing weighs in on Trump


Schwarzman’s bad business advice


Trump’s mix of politics and military is faulted


Trump team weighing orders on Guantanamo, cutting government


Trump and Bannon have turned the White House against America


Trump’s faux-pas diplomacy


Does Trump know Putin? A chronology.


Trump’s dangerous lie about Russia


I ran Clinton's campaign, and I fear Russia is meddling with more than elections


The very peculiar isolation of Trump


Leaks suggest Trump’s own team is alarmed by his conduct


Hispanic Republicans quiet as Trump sees no place for Latinos


Trump makes false statement about U.S. murder rate to sheriffs’ group


Trump offers to “destroy” Texas state senator's career for sheriff




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