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Monday, June 21, 2021

Despite DeVos confirmation, UF education students hopeful

Stephanie Schroeder braced herself as the U.S. Senate voted to confirm Betsy DeVos as the secretary of education.

Although two Republican senators broke party lines and voted against the nominee, the Senate vote for Betsy DeVos tied Tuesday afternoon. And for the first time in history, the vice president had to cast the tie-breaking vote on a cabinet pick, and Vice President Mike Pence confirmed DeVos, according to NPR.

Schroeder, a UF education doctoral student, faxed a letter to Sen. Marco Rubio’s Florida and Washington, D.C., offices Friday express the discontent of more than 140 UF College of Education students and alumni. Despite receiving phone calls and letters to oppose DeVos, Rubio still voted for the nominee, along with most of his fellow Republicans.

Schroeder, 30, watched the vote unfold on a livestream on her phone while rallying with about 50 other protesters outside U.S. Rep. Ted Yoho’s office Tuesday. Her phone began buzzing with angry messages from her peers who signed her letter.

“I think people were hoping, and they are disappointed,” she said.

She said no one she knows in the UF College of Education has expressed support for DeVos. She said some didn’t agree with her stance on school choice, while others thought she wasn’t informed enough about special education for students with disabilities.

Even though her letter was unsuccessful, Schroeder said she doesn’t regret it. She said she’s glad a group of education professionals were able to inform people about the education field and DeVos.

“Rather than it being the end, the outrage over her nomination for the position could be a good motivation for people to view education and education policy,” she said.

DeVos can make calls on federal funding for schools, but state and local governments make important decisions that directly affect schools, Schroeder said. Now it’s time to pay attention to the local school boards and policies.

Ali Unger-Fink, a Gainesville elementary school intern and UF education ProTeach master’s student, had just walked home a group of fifth-grade students when she heard the news.

“I was very hopeful that it would not happen,” the 22-year-old said. “I can’t say I’m completely surprised.”

Unger-Fink said she was hoping a Republican senator would vote against DeVos at the last minute.

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She said she was concerned DeVos couldn’t answer simple questions about education during her confirmation hearing Jan. 17, like the difference between growth and proficiency.

“It was just upsetting that she was very unfamiliar with the major education reforms and concepts,” she said. “There were a lot of things that she said that were disturbing.”

Even though she’s disappointed, she said she plans to research exactly how DeVos could affect public schools to prepare herself.

“I’m going to keep doing what I’m doing, and that’s putting the kids first,” she said.


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