State Sen. Owen Hill will host a tele-press conference Monday to help generate support for the confirmation of Betsy DeVos, Donald Trump’s choice to head the department of education.
Hill, a Republican from Colorado Springs, chairs of Senate’s education committee and has been a leading school choice advocate at the Capitol for years and a champion of DeVos since she was nominated this month.
“She’s actually kind of new to the national education stage,” he told The Colorado Statesman. “So we want to talk about it, talk about some of her accomplishments, talk about the affordance of choice within public schools as a way to strengthen the public school system.”
Monday’s telepresser is aimed at countering the intense protest campaign opposed to the DeVos candidacy that has clogged phone lines and email accounts at U.S. Senate offices this week, including the office of Colorado Democratic U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet.
Bennet is a member of the Senate’s Committee on Health, Education and Labor, which is tasked with approving the DeVos nomination before it can move to the full Senate for a vote.
Critics of DeVos point to positions they say are at odds with public education, her lack of experience in government and with school teaching and administration, her open support for religious education and the fact that she has given millions of her family fortune in political donations and perhaps to some of the lawmakers who may be voting on her nomination.
Hill said he thought DeVos was unfairly “sandbagged” during hearings this week and that she’s just the kind of outsider who could shake up the department and bring great benefits to the nation’s state school systems.
“That was wrong, how they sandbagged her during the hearings. The fact is, we need an outsider, someone who can bring fresh thinking.
“It’s national school choice week, this week,” he said. “Many folks say school choice is anti-public schools. We want to say that’s completely wrong. I think it’s just another public option. The more options we have, the stronger the whole system.
“I think DeVos brings that perspective… I mean, Republicans and Democrats, everyone I talk to says, ‘Look, Colorado should be doing a Colorado thing — and the more Washington, DC, can do to give us more responsibility and resources to do that, that’s good.’ I think we’re all in agreement on that front.”
Colorado has long been a battleground in education policy wars. School boards have worked at the cutting edge of the reform movement — where experiments in student testing, teacher evaluation, vouchers, privatization and choice have fueled passionate debate. Board elections routinely draw the eye of national education interests and vast sums of campaign money.
“The Colorado thing is everything, that’s what’s great about it,” Hill said. “We got traditional public schools. We got public charter schools. We got private schools. We got home schools. You got early colleges. We’ve got all these different cool programs going on here. Let us keep doing our thing. Let parents, students and teachers make those decisions. That’s what makes our system so strong.
“But whatever we’re doing here in Colorado, that’s maybe not what they should be doing in California or Kentucky,” Hill said. “Success at the federal level means empowering different sates. The more successful DeVos is, the more empowered we are in Colorado to spend our own money and in our own way for our own progress.”
Hill will be joined on the call by Gerard Robinson, a fellow at the conservative American Enterprise Institute, and Mike Miles, head of Pike Peak Prep, a charter school program.
*Edit note: An earlier version of this story published the conference press release under the assumption the event was a tele-town hall. In fact, the call is intended only for members of the media.