Local education leaders split on DeVos confirmation

West Michigan philanthropist Betsy DeVos is new Secretary of Education

Vice President Mike Pence swears in Education Secretary Betsy DeVos in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building in the White House complex in Washington, Tuesday, Feb. 7, 2016, as DeVos’ husband Dick DeVos watches. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Vice President Mike Pence made history Tuesday when he broke a 50-50 tie on the Senate floor to confirm West Michigan’s Betsy DeVos as the new Secretary of Education.

Mary Bouwense, who leads the Grand Rapids Education Association, was watching the vote closely and hoping for a different outcome.

“She’s going to be heading up a department that she has no experience with,” she told 24 Hour News 8 afterward.

DeVos is a longtime supporter of school choice and charter schools. Bouwense said she’s worried about how DeVos might impact the public school system and that some kids may get left behind.

“The students that can will move or go to another school, and those that can’t will stay in the neighborhood schools that will have diminished services,” Bouwense said. “Schools are not businesses. Students are not products.”

Despite her opposition, Bouwense said there may be an unintended benefit of DeVos’ confirmation.

“One of the things that happened with this whole process is that it’s galvanized and motivated and mobilized a lot of public school advocates,” Bouwense said.

Not all public school leaders oppose DeVos. She and Grand Rapids Public Schools Superintendent Teresa Weatherall Neal have worked closely together. DeVos’ nonprofit offered to fly Weatherall Neal to Washington D.C. for DeVos’ confirmation hearing — though that never happened because the hearing was rescheduled.

Weatherall Neal provided this statement Tuesday:

“I want to congratulate Betsy DeVos on her confirmation and wish her the best. We certainly value our relationship and look forward to our continued work with her in this new role as U.S. Secretary of Education. This is a unique opportunity for us to share the GRPS Transformation Plan success story and the remarkable work of our students, parents, teachers, principals, support staff, and community partners at the national level. Our success is a result of collective efforts, aligned to do what’s best for kids, that can serve as a model for how we work to improve education outcomes across the country.”

The mission for National Heritage Academies is similar to DeVos’. The organization opened its first school, Excel Charter Academy, in Grand Rapids in 1995. Since then, it has expanded to operate more than 80 charter schools in nine states.

National Heritage Academies Founder and Chairman J.C. Huizenga provided this statement:

“I am honored to offer Betsy DeVos my heartfelt congratulations on her confirmation. I know she will be an outstanding Secretary of Education. I am confident she will act in the best interests of children first and always.”