Ohio politicians backing Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos received campaign funds from her family, raising questions from Ohio University education students.
Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, was among the 50 senators to cast their vote to confirm DeVos as secretary of education. The historic motion made by Vice President Mike Pence to break the 50-50 tie secured DeVos’ position.
DeVos’ confirmation appeared controversial to some, including Sarah Gossett, a sophomore studying early childhood education. DeVos financially backed many of the senators who voted for her, including Portman. The DeVos family donated $51,000 to Portman’s campaign, according to a Federal Election Commission report.
“It doesn’t look good,” Gossett said. “If you’re going to throw support behind someone who’s given you money, it’s going to look bad to the public.”
Gov. John Kasich also backed DeVos in a letter to the chairman of the Senate’s education and health committee, which voted on her nomination.
“I believe Betsy DeVos has the potential to usher in an era of real and meaningful education reforms in our country,” he wrote in the letter.
DeVos donated $2,700 to Kasich, and her husband, Dick DeVos Jr., gave him $5,400.
“Their decision was made more on the fact that they should support her for giving them money rather than what the people in their state want,” Cathey Graff, a junior studying middle childhood education, said.
Kasich’s press secretary declined to comment.
Much of the controversy surrounding DeVos centers on her support of charter schools, institutions started by individuals or companies funded by state money.
“Betsy DeVos has had privatized education her entire life,” Gossett said. “She has never interacted with the public school system. A lot of times, people who are brought up in the privatized area, they look at public schools and have the idea that they’re places where nothing gets done, where really there are huge gains being made every day in public schools.”
Kasich is also a proponent of charter schools and actively lobbies for student choice in what school they attend. The movement is a private sector approach to education in which teachers, parents or community groups can create schools backed by state funding.
In his letter, Kasich praised DeVos as a “champion of school vouchers and charter schools” and lauded her as someone who will reduce federal intervention in education.
“Kasich has always been a proponent of charter schools,” Gossett said. “It’s kind of disheartening that a member of public service is not in favor of public education.”
Charter schools are good in theory, Gossett said, but they have many flaws. In 2015, more than $1 billion was granted annually to charter schools in Ohio, serving about 120,000 students at 350 charter schools, despite many charter schools' failures and closures.
Nearly a third of Ohio’s 65 charter school sponsors could go out of business after flunking ratings by the Department of Education in October, according to The Columbus Dispatch.
As a future educator, Graff said she is worried about what DeVos might do as secretary of education.
“I am worried because she talked about … a lot of decisions for teachers,” she said. “She’s going to be one of those supporters for hurting the teachers themselves and schools and not support them and give them the benefits they need.”