Billionaire Betsy DeVos was confirmed this week as the new U.S. Secretary of Education.
That came after protests from activists who thought the businesswoman was unqualified for the position because she had never gone to a public school, she had never worked in the public school system and her children never went to a public school.
She was confirmed by one vote. Senator Dean Heller (R-NV), voted 'yes' while Nevada's newest senator, Senator Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV), voted 'no.'
In a series of tweets, the Clark County Education Association condemned DeVos as a bad choice. The CCEA represents some 17,000 teachers in the Clark County School District.
John Vellardita, CCEA executive director, told KNPR's State of Nevada DeVos could hold a lot of power over how Nevada teachers do their jobs.
“I think the impact is ultimately going to be about funding," he said. "So, if funding is earmarked in a certain way from the feds, to the states, and from the states down to the local education agencies and less of it is coming, then it is going to have a significant impact because we’re underfunded as it is.”
Federal dollars are often given under the proviso that, in return, a school district must follow teaching policies outlined by the Education Department.
DeVos supports voucher programs, where tax dollars are given to parents to help them pay for private schooling for their children.
“In DeVos’ case, what is probably going to happen is more money will be diverted to the private sector rather than public education school systems,” Vellardita said.
Courts in several states have struck down many voucher systems because they funneled public funds into private -- often religious -- schools.
Education Savings Accounts, Nevada's voucher program, was approved by Gov. Brian Sandoval in 2015, but the state Supreme Court ruled its funding mechanism was unconstitutional.
In his State of the State address in January, Sandoval said his budget will ask for $60 million to fund the program. State lawmakers over the next four months of the 2017 legislative session are expected to vote up or down on that request.
As for the impact the DeVos approval could have on lawmakers in Nevada, Vellardita said Heller's vote for DeVos could have significant consequences in 2018. He said teachers don't go into the profession for the money but to try to make a difference in the lives of children.
“When they see lawmakers make decisions that go counter to what they believe is their mission and their vision, it’s very disturbing and they weigh in,” he said.
He also pointed out that teachers vote in significant numbers. He doubts Nevada's educators will forget Heller's vote for DeVos.
(Editor's Note: KNPR News made repeated attempts to have Senator Heller join us. The senator's office did not reply to our requests)
John Vellardita, executive director, Clark County Education Association
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