On Feb. 7, 2017, Betsy DeVos was confirmed as America’s next education secretary.
Resistance to her nomination was of historic proportions. Last week, two Republican senators — Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska — broke ranks and announced they would oppose DeVos, leaving the GOP-controlled Senate at a 50-50 stalemate (all 48 Democrats opposed her nomination). Vice President Mike Pence cast the tiebreaking vote.
If you attended or have kids in public schools, DeVos’ nomination may be a tough pill to swallow. DeVos, a Michigan billionaire born into wealth, has never attended or worked in a public school — although her family has given the Republican Party about $200 million over the years. She’s also been a big proponent of school choice — a controversial free-market education method that allows public funds to be siphoned off to private, parochial, and even for-profit schools. It’s a strategy many education advocates have criticized, claiming it uses already scarce public school funds to benefit mostly upper-middle class and wealthy families, leaving the most vulnerable students and schools in even worse shape.
Admittedly, it was not a good day for many public school advocates. But now more than ever, American kids and schools need our help.
Here are 20 ways you can turn your anxiety over the future of public education into real action:
1. First and foremost, don’t feel hopeless.
Let your frustrations fuel your advocacy. Among President Trump’s controversial cabinet appointments, DeVos’ agenda may be the least popular among Americans. The resistance to her plans is alive and well.
2. Help fund a project that will make a difference on Donors Choose.
The platform gives teachers a place to crowd-fund classroom projects, allowing individuals (that’s you!) to help students, whether it be giving art supplies to students in California or providing iPads to kids in Brooklyn to boost their linguistic and social skills.
3. If you can, get involved in the National Education Association.
The focus of NEA — the largest professional employee organization in the country — is to make public education high-quality and accessible to every student. There are many ways for prospective, current, and former public education professionals to join the cause.
4. Come midterm elections, don’t forget which senators voted for DeVos — many of whom received campaign donations from her family:
Steve Daines (Montana), John Thune (South Dakota), Ron Johnson (Wisconsin), Richard Burr (North Carolina), Jeff Sessions (Alabama), Roger Wicker (Mississippi), Roy Blunt (Missouri), Bob Corker (Tennessee), Michael Enzi (Wyoming), John Barrasso (Wyoming), Dean Heller (Nevada), Rob Portman (Ohio), Bill Cassidy (Louisiana), John McCain (Arizona), Richard Shelby (Alabama), Mike Lee (Utah), Ted Cruz (Texas), Dan Sullivan (Alaska), Cory Gardner (Colorado), Rand Paul (Kentucky), Deb Fischer (Nebraska), Lindsey Graham (South Carolina), James Inhofe (Oklahoma), Jim Risch (Idaho), James Lankford (Oklahoma), Jerry Moran (Kansas), Patrick Toomey (Pennsylvania), Joni Ernst (Iowa), Tom Cotton (Arkansas), Michael Rounds (South Dakota), Thad Cochran (Mississippi), Mitch McConnell (Kentucky), Michael Crapo (Idaho), John Hoeven (North Dakota), Pat Roberts (Kansas), Shelley Moore Capito (West Virginia), Orrin Hatch (Utah), John Kennedy (Louisiana), Thom Tillis (North Carolina), Todd Young (Indiana), Jeff Flake (Arizona), Tim Scott (South Carolina), Ben Sasse (Nebraska), Marco Rubio (Florida), David Perdue (Georgia), Johnny Isakson (Georgia), Charles Grassley (Iowa), John Cornyn (Texas), John Boozman (Arkansas), and Lamar Alexander (Tennessee).
5. Think local.
You know your own community best. What local or regional organizations do the crucial work unique to the problems facing the public schools in your city? Reach out and ask them how you can get involved.
Start volunteering with organizations that work in or with public schools now. Ask them what they need.
— Mara Wilson (@MaraWilson) February 7, 2017
6. Donate to No Kid Hungry.
The nonprofit helps feed American schoolchildren so they can stay full and focused in the classroom. One $10 gift can provide up to 100 meals to a kid who could use it.
7. Support after-school arts programs.
There’s probably at least one group in your area helping teach art to kids outside the classroom — an opportunity that could help them in many ways for years to come. In Pittsburgh, for instance, free after-school art classes at Manchester Craftsmen’s Guild Youth & Arts teach any kids in the Pittsburgh public school system skills in ceramics, design, photography, and more.
8. Share this video of Sen. Al Franken questioning DeVos’ support of anti-LGBTQ causes — and hold her accountable to do better.
Let the record show: Dollars from the DeVos family have gone toward horribly anti-LGBTQ initiatives, including gay (to straight) conversation therapy — a practice that’s been deemed harmful by experts and is essentially a form of child abuse.
Despite her record, DeVos said during her Senate hearing that she never believed in gay conversation therapy and that she “fully embraces equality” for all students. Let’s hold her accountable to that.
Earlier this evening, I questioned Betsy DeVos, President-elect Trump’s nominee for Secretary of Education, and was deeply troubled by the fact that she seemed unfamiliar with some of the most basic issues in education today.
Ms. DeVos repeatedly refused to answer questions, let alone offer specifics. That was not what the American people needed to hear. They deserved to see her demonstrate that she understands and can successfully address the profoundly difficult challenges ordinary families face every day when it comes to education: things like making sure their kids are prepared for the 21st century economy, addressing student loan debt, and ensuring kids feel safe in school.
Posted by U.S. Senator Al Franken on Tuesday, January 17, 2017
9. Support your local libraries.
Libraries are great resources for our kids to learn outside the classroom (and they have so much more to offer than books). Get your library card, visit frequently, volunteer, and spread the word.
Speaking of libraries…
10. Create a Little Free Library in your own neighborhood.
Build a little library in your yard, stock it with some books, and let your neighbors enjoy. Ideally, it’ll turn into a take-a-book, give-a-book situation.
Learn more about how to pull it off.
11. Fight for more affordable and free higher education at the ballot box.
Despite what you may think of DeVos’ appointment, Americans increasingly support using public funds to ensure college is free or affordable to more students. Stanford University, for example, was cheered for guaranteeing students whose parents have a combined income of less than $125,000 would have free tuition. And San Francisco has also made waves for making City College free for residents.
Many state and local governments are also trying to make higher ed more accessible to more students. New York state may make its public colleges and universities free to attend for the vast majority of students. Stay plugged in to similar state and local initiatives in your own area.
12. Support the “nonpublic” schools in your area.
Nonpublic schools are, in fact, public schools for kids with moderate to severe disabilities that prevent them from attending a more traditional public school. The Individuals With Disabilities Education Act ensures schools like them exist for any family that needs it.
Considering DeVos’ nomination has disability advocates worried, the nonpublic schools in your community could probably use your support. Many host regular fundraisers and even need classroom volunteers.
13. Support the Kids in Need Foundation.
The nonprofit provides thousands of backpacks filled with school supplies to students in need every year, giving them the tools they need to succeed in class. (There are lots of groups doing similar work, by the way — if you do some digging, you may find a more local option.)
14. Don’t forget that Open eBooks is a thing, and it’s spectacular.
Former President Obama’s ConnectED initiative helped get more than $250 million worth of fantastic children’s e-books online, available to any young person who wants to dive into a good read.
Because not every kid gets that chance.
15. Donate to First Book.
This nonprofit provides new books and other learning materials to kids and families in need. Since it was founded in 1992, the group has given away 160 million books and education resources.
16. Help tackle crime, nutrition, and education … with veggies.
The nonprofit Gardopia Gardens operates community gardens at schools in Texas, helping make nutritional foods more accessible to kids. It not only teaches them about nutrition and gardening, it lowers crime rates in the neighborhoods where it operates. Similar programs are offered at schools around the country — if your local school doesn’t already have one, why not look into what it would take to start one yourself?
17. Help make lunchtime a little more stress-free.
A cool thing you can do today is try to find out which of your local schools have kids with overdue lunch accounts and pay them off.
— Ashley C. Ford (@iSmashFizzle) December 6, 2016
18. Support Publicolor.
Kids in New York City who work in the after-school program Publicolor paint beautiful works of art in schools in order to bring a splash of color to the spaces they share, build relationships, and learn valuable skills like commercial painting and positive work habits.
19. Stand up for immigrant students by supporting United We Dream.
The group had already been rallying educators to stand up to Trump’s agenda. Now, with DeVos’ nomination, its Educators Toolkit may be even more necessary.
20. Take matters into your own hands and run for a position on your local school board.
All politics are local, right? Run for school board in your community and make a difference.
Let’s not sugarcoat it: DeVos’ nomination is a major setback for our public schools. But we can’t get complacent.
In ways big and small, our resistance to her agenda can make a better tomorrow for kids everywhere.