Teachers protest nomination of Betsy DeVos as secretary of education

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COLUMBIA - Some teachers hit the streets on Monday to protest the confirmation of Betsy DeVos as U.S. education secretary.

MacKenzie Everett-Kennedy, a language arts teacher from Hickman High School, said she helped organize a protest for teachers in advance of Tuesday's planned Senate confirmation vote for DeVos. Everett-Kennedy encouraged fellow CPS teachers and area educators to make use of their lunch breaks and after-school hours to join the protest.

"This is a grassroots movement. I'm just a regular teacher," Everett-Kennedy said. "We have teachers here today from every background—public and private, urban and rural, beginning and retiring—to send a clear message that we stand united in our opposition to Betsy DeVos."

The protesters, many of them educators and retired teachers, gathered at the Columbia office of U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., urging him to revoke his support for DeVos by writing and delivering opposition letters for the senator. Some carried signs saying "No DeVos at any cost" and "DeVos = DeSaster."

If one more senator changes his or her vote to "no," DeVos' confirmation may be in jeopardy.

DeVos, a former chairwoman of the Michigan Republican Party, has been hailed as an advocate for school choice, charter school expansion and local control of education in that state.

In a statement, Blunt affirmed his support for DeVos, saying, “I believe Betsy DeVos understands that decisions about education need to be made much closer to where kids are.  I look forward to working with her to find ways to get those decisions back to local school boards, and moms and dads.”

Doug Thaman, executive director of the Missouri Public Charter Schools Association, said local control is an increasingly important topic of conversation among educators, parents and families. 

"Education is inherently a policy division that is supposed to be given to the states and local authorities," Thaman said. "We've seen an erosion of local control of education over time, and we're hoping to see the federal government move in a direction of greater local and state control."

Everett-Kennedy and the protesters that turned out for Monday's event said DeVos' lack of experience in public education is disheartening. 

"Her complete lack of experience is very concerning," Everett-Kennedy said. "We would never have someone in charge of a school district or a school itself without an education background, so it's pretty astounding that the secretary of education is being promoted without any education experience."