This Is How You Fight Betsy DeVos

Illustration for article titled This Is How You Fight Betsy DeVos
Image: Associated Press

Like so many other educators, 31-year-old speech therapist Kathy Hoffman watched the confirmation hearing of Betsy DeVos with horror. Then, Hoffman decided to do something about it: she ran for office and, against the odds, won.


Hoffman will become Arizona’s next superintendent for public instruction, narrowly beating former state Senate minority leader David Schapira in the primaries, and then Republican Frank Riggs, a former California congressman and a major proponent of charter schools, in the general election.

“It was very clear from many of her statements she had never spent any time in a school,” Hoffman told the Washington Post of DeVos.

Hoffman’s victory speaks to a national frustration among educators: More than 300 members of the American Federation of Teachers ran for office this year, “triple what the organization had seen in the past,” the Post reports, and Arizona is one of the states across the nation where teachers walked out in protest of low wages and budget cuts.

Hoffman is among a handful of educators across the country who won midterm elections on platforms combatting DeVos’s agenda, illustrating a important shift of prioritizing public education: Jahana Hayes, a 2016 National Teacher of the Year award winner, became the state’s first black woman elected to Congress. In Wisconsin, voters elected Tony Evers, the Superintendent of Public Instruction of Wisconsin, ousting incumbent Republican Scott Walker—an enemy of teachers and unions.

Mother Jones reports on the significance of Hoffman’s candidacy:

Hoffman’s candidacy was a direct rebuke of the tenure of the current superintendent Diane Douglas. Douglas threatened to investigate teachers who walked out earlier this year, and she opposed an initiative (that was later pulled from the November ballot) that would have raised taxes on wealthy households to pay for school funding. She also tried to change the state’s academic standards to adopt a curriculum from the Hillsdale College, a private religious school with ties to Education Secretary Betsy DeVos. Doing so would have removed mention of evolution and climate change in the state’s science curriculum. After outcry from teachers, the state’s Board of Education ignored her attempt to overhaul the standards and moved forward with standards that did include mention of evolution. She ended up losing in the primary to Riggs.


“There’s more of an understanding that it’s because of the legislature and governor’s inaction over the past decade that we had so many people saying it’s time to give teachers a raise and invest in our public schools rather than continuing to make cuts,” Hoffman told Mother Jones. “The Republican-controlled legislature was not willing to listen.” Across Arizona, voters rejected Proposition 305, a bill that would allow public tax dollars to fund private and religious education.

While Hoffman’s election is a public rejection of Republican education policy, Hoffman is still up against a Republican-controlled legislature. “She can’t control the one thing we really need, which is more funds,” Ralph Quintana, president of the Arizona Federation of Teachers, told the Washington Post, “but we have someone in the capital advocating for our needs.”

Prachi Gupta is a senior reporter at Jezebel.



As a teacher, this is heartening news.

Ten years into my career at a public high school, I’m spending a lot of time thinking about whether I’m able to fight the tide of neglect and mismanagement within this system.

My idealism lead me to this career knowing that it would not be easy. Knowing that my impact would not be obvious to me for many years, perhaps never. What I am struggling with now is a feeling of helplessness. I’m overwhelmed by obstacles, small and large, that prevent me from giving my students the best educational experience possible. In this system teachers like me have to fight every battle (the battle for decent books, teaching supplies, working technology, funding, training, etc.) on our own. I get very little support from my administrators or the leadership at my district. When you add that to the day-to-day work I have to tackle to simply be ready to face my students, it’s just too much for one person to handle.

Without systemic change people like me, people who really, REALLY want to be here doing this job, will continue to burn out.

I hope this is a sign of a tide-change in education. We need people who care at the top of this system, those of us at the bottom can’t carry the load on our own.