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Op-Ed: DeVos Deserves Booker’s Support for Education Secretary

Confirmation process is an opportunity for Booker to stand up against partisan politics and forge a new bond advocating for New Jersey’s public school children

Betsy DeVos
U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos

We urge New Jersey’s U.S. Sens. Cory Booker and Bob Menendez to support the confirmation of Betsy DeVos for U.S. secretary of education. DeVos has a history of advocacy for the educational needs of children, no matter their ZIP code, and is a most credible selection for an incoming administration vowing to bring wholesale improvements to our nation’s education policies. 

For almost 30 years, DeVos has been fighting on the front lines of education reform to empower parents and focus on the needs of children, especially for traditionally at-risk communities. Her record of advocacy matches that of Sen. Booker. So it is natural for him to seize this opportunity, through the confirmation process for DeVos, to stand up against partisan politics, highlight their shared mission, and forge a new bond advocating for New Jersey’s public school children. 

For two decades Sen. Booker has championed school choice, claiming he couldn’t “stand up and stand against a parent having options” because he and his parents benefited from them. That is why in 1999, he and Peter Denton founded Excellent Education for Everyone (E3) as a leading voice in New Jersey for public education reform, school choice, and greater accountability. While we continue to have a national public education problem, we thought success in New Jersey could be achieved by spending more. But we failed! Dollars alone didn’t make a difference. Who controls the spending, is critical, as Sen. Booker has been saying publicly for years. 

DeVos’ nomination is the answer for a country that has expressed, through this election, its desire for a new path forward — disillusioned with politicians who are satisfied with an education system that has failed generations of urban school children and kept them trapped in failing public schools.

Educational opportunity is the great equalizer in our society. Communities across the country rallied around this sentiment expecting their newly elected government, and specifically their education system, to work for them, listen and be accountable to them, and provide a pathway to success for them. 

People of good will, such as Betsy DeVos and Cory Booker, joined together, with the shared mission of getting kids from bad schools to good schools — right now — before another generation of students is lost. As part of his advocacy in support of school choice and standing up to public education special interests, Sen. Booker has been a board member of the American Federation for Children (chaired by DeVos). They speak at the same conferences and work with the same education reform organizations. Similarly, Sen. Menendez comes from a minority background. We hope he will become, as Sen. Booker has, an advocate for the children in our schools, not the adult voters and their special interests. 

While the Garden State boasts some of the highest school rankings today, DeVos’ reform advocacy and ability to work across party lines has the potential to bolster these numbers. Surely, Sen. Booker could leverage his support for her nomination to forge a new era of cooperation between New Jersey and Washington, adding stronger potential for federal support. Further, DeVos has proven her skill at challenging the status quo and her cooperation could help move long-stalled legislation that could benefit our state’s children.

Together, DeVos and Booker could prove a formidable team successfully navigating the next iteration of challenges and pitfalls in our nation’s public education system. The recently signed Every Student Succeeds Act, which permanently replaced No Child Left Behind, returns more control over education to states and school districts and will require a principled leader moving forward. There is no question DeVos is a perfect fit to lead this initiative. As one who believes parents can make the right choices for their children and understands the appropriate role of federal oversight to ensure successful implementation of the law, DeVos’ lifelong advocacy has prepared her for this position. Sen. Booker shares these attributes. 

It is time for a U.S. education secretary who puts the priority on the children, not the adults, in our public schools. Our elected officials have a duty and obligation to put aside politics and consider DeVos on her merit and vision. The future of the country depends on it. We urge Sens. Booker and Menendez to support her nomination.

U.S. Rep. Richard “Dick” Zimmer is a trustee of Excellent Education for Everyone. He represented New Jersey’s 12th Congressional District and was a member of the Ways and Means Committee.  Zimmer is the author of the federal Megan’s Law, which requires parents to be notified when a convicted sex offender moves into their neighborhood. He is currently CEO of Zimmer Strategies, Inc., a public policy consulting firm, and served as a graduate lecturer in Public and International Affairs at Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson School.

A trustee and treasurer of Excellent Education for Everyone, Steven Looney is managing director of Peale Davies & Co. Inc., a management consulting firm, as well as a CPA and an attorney. Looney serves as a consultant and director of healthcare, financial services, manufacturing, and technology companies. The son of a public school teacher, the long-time resident of Ridgewood is a strong advocate for improving the state’s public and private education systems.

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