House Speaker Scott Bedke has joined 140 GOP officials in endorsing Betsy DeVos, President Trump’s controversial choice for education secretary.
Bedke co-signed a letter calling DeVos “an advocate and ally for all children.” The letter was signed by state school superintendents, lieutenant governors and legislators from all 50 states. Bedke was the lone Idahoan to sign on — and said he did so at the urging of the Republican National Committee.
The letter was dated Jan. 17 — the same day DeVos faced a stormy hearing in the Senate’s Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee.
“I need to do some homework, I guess,” Bedke told Idaho Education News Thursday, “(but) she’s my party’s nominee.”
However, Bedke did say he supports DeVos’ centerpiece issue — expanding school choice. DeVos, a Michigan billionaire, has actively supported school voucher programs and charter schools in her home state of Michigan, and beyond.
Bedke said he believes DeVos’ message on school choice resonates at the state level. And the Oakley Republican said he also believes school choice provides methods to help students who may succeed in a non-traditional education setting.
School choice was a recurring theme in the Republicans’ letter, obtained and posted by WOOD TV in DeVos’ hometown of Grand Rapids, Mich.
“(DeVos’) support for an all-of-the-above approach to K-12 education – from charter schools, to public, private and online education – defines the school choice movement that has helped countless children across many of our states,” the Republicans said in their letter to Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., a former education secretary and chairman of the Senate’s education committee.
DeVos’ nomination has stoked a national debate over vouchers and charter education, with critics challenging her commitment to public education. The nomination also appears to have split lawmakers along party lines. Senate Democrats have led opposition to the DeVos nomination, now scheduled for an education committee vote on Tuesday.
As the national debate over school choice heats up, it’s unclear how much attention the issue will receive during the 2017 legislative session.
Bedke isn’t sure whether he expects another attempt to tweak the Blaine Amendment, which prohibits the use of state dollars to support religious schools. The amendment precludes a school voucher system, as supported by Trump and DeVos. And Bedke believes the state should not put public money into church-run schools.
Meanwhile, House Education Committee Chair Julie VanOrden wants to put the school choice debate on hold for 2017, while a legislative committee continues to review Idaho’s complicated school funding formula. Both VanOrden and Bedke serve on the funding formula committee, which isn’t expected to issue recommendations before the 2018 session.
“I appreciate her giving us some room to work,” Bedke said Thursday, “(but) I’m supportive of expanding school choice.”