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Betsy DeVos 'is unprepared and unqualified' to be Education secretary, charter school booster Eli Broad says

Eli Broad, the prominent local philanthropist behind a massive effort to increase the number of charter schools in Los Angeles, is protesting the appointment of Betsy DeVos as secretary of Education.

Broad sent a letter to U.S. senators Wednesday, asking them to vote against President Trump’s nominee.

“I believe she is unprepared and unqualified for the position,” Broad wrote. “Indeed, with Betsy DeVos at the helm of the U.S. Department of Education, much of the good work that has been accomplished to improve public education for all of America’s children could be undone.”

Betsy DeVos is a billionaire Republican fundraiser based in Grand Rapids, Mich. Before Trump announced her nomination, she spent her dollars and connections promoting school choice, in the form of both vouchers and charter schools.

School vouchers use public money to fund private — often religious — schools, and charter schools are publicly funded, but can be privately run.

Broad has contributed heavily through a political action committee to local school board candidates who support charter schools, and his philanthropic group is backing an effort to increase their growth in Los Angeles, which already has more such schools than any other city in the U.S. 

But despite their agreement on charter schools, Broad thinks DeVos’ views are too extreme. “We must have a Secretary of Education who believes in public education and the need to keep public schools public,” he wrote.

During a contentious confirmation hearing last month, DeVos drew ire for her apparent lack of basic understanding of some key education laws. Before the hearing, Broad wrote, he questioned her support for “unregulated charter schools and school vouchers.” Her performance reinforced his doubts. 

On Tuesday, the Senate education committee voted along party lines to advance her candidacy.

But her confirmation might be in trouble. On Wednesday, two Republican senators on the education committee who voted for DeVos to get through committee said they would vote no on the Senate floor. One more Republican defection would mean DeVos doesn’t get the job.

DeVos’ nomination has put Democratic charter school supporters in a hard spot because she also supports school vouchers. Vouchers are a third rail in Democratic politics  — they arouse fears not just about the draining of dollars from public schools but about erosion of the separation of church and state as well. 

At a rally in January, local union leaders passed out signs connecting Broad and DeVos.

You can read the full letter here.

Editor’s note: Education Matters receives funding from a number of foundations, including one or more mentioned in this article. The California Community Foundation and United Way of Greater Los Angeles administer grants from the Baxter Family Foundation, the Broad Foundation, the California Endowment and the Wasserman Foundation. Under terms of the grants, The Times retains complete control over editorial content.

Joy.Resmovits@LATimes.com

@Joy_Resmovits 

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