Local superintendent scoffs at Betsy DeVos testimony

Many public school leaders concerned about Devos' stance on charter schools

Education Secretary-designate Betsy DeVos arrives before testifying on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Jan. 17, 2017, at her confirmation hearing before the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)
Education Secretary-designate Betsy DeVos arrives before testifying on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Jan. 17, 2017, at her confirmation hearing before the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)


WYOMING, Mich. (WOOD) — As Betsy DeVos was grilled on Capitol Hill Tuesday, one West Michigan superintendent was getting his two cents in on Twitter.

Godfrey-Lee Public Schools Superintendent David Britten is retiring at the end of this school year. He’s one of the few local school leaders willing to challenge DeVos publicly since she was nominated by President-elect Donald Trump to fill the role of education secretary.

DeVos was questioned Tuesday by senators who will decide whether she is confirmed.

“It’s clear now that @BetsyDeVos sees education simply as job training and not a process in itself to strengthen the civic role of citizens,” Britten said in one of his many tweets during the hearing.

“What concerns me most is I don’t think Mrs. DeVos really demonstrated that she’s qualified for the position,” Britten told 24 Hour News 8 Wednesday.

Britten, along with many other public school officials nationwide, says DeVos’ stance on charter schools is a central concern.

DeVos said during her testimony that she supports families having the choice to move their children to privately-run charter schools with their public funding in tow. She said it’s about giving poor families similar choices to those afforded affluent families. DeVos insists that she supports public schools, but says parents should have a way out if those schools aren’t serving the needs of a particular child.

The major objection for Britten is the fact that charter schools don’t and can’t accept all students. Inevitably, he says, some will end up in public schools.

“We’re trying to build up kids — build on their dreams and their aspirations and give them positive experiences, and you’re going to create a sort-and-select and ‘sorry, there’s no room at the inn’ environment? Are you kidding me?” Britten asked rhetorically. “We’ll all be like the struggling Detroit schools.”

Britten suggest investing in the existing public schools as an alternative.

“Why not instead of creating this parallel system of education, put that emphasis and energy into changing and redesigning public education?” Britten said.

DeVos does have the support of one key public education figure in West Michigan: Grand Rapids Public Schools’ Superintendent Teresa Weatherall Neal.

She declined interviews Wednesday. A GRPS spokesperson said she has received too many requests from local, statewide and national media. But she did release a lengthy statement reiterating her support for DeVos.

“I express my support for Betsy because I know her, I have a relationship with her, and I have seen first-hand how she and her family want what is best for children and education,” the statement from Weatherall Neal read in part. “While we may have some points of difference on education policy, Betsy DeVos, along with her husband Dick, have been supporters of mine, the Grand Rapids Public Schools Transformation Plan, and they have been major contributors to the overall health and growth of Grand Rapids.”

>>PDF: Full statement from Weatherall Neal

Britten suspects the DeVoses’ financial support for GRPS is a significant reason Weatherall Neal is perhaps the only public school superintendent voicing support for Betsy DeVos.

“Historically, the DeVos family has done quite a bit for the Grand Rapids Public Schools and they have avoided going outside of the city of Grand Rapids,” Britten said. “We’ve made requests in the past to the DeVos Foundation and we’ve been turned down.”

Britten says he agrees with Weatherall Neal about one of DeVos’ qualifications — that her heart is in the right place.

“She definitely gives me the impression she really cares about kids and really cares about families,” Britten said. “I don’t think caring and knowing how to do your job are the same thing.”

Initial voting on DeVos’ confirmation could come as early as next week. She is expected to be confirmed in the Republican-controlled U.S. Senate.