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New Jersey's Cory Booker Votes Against Charter-School Ally Betsy DeVos

New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker recently voted against confirming Betsy DeVos as secretary of the Department of Education, even though he's worked with her school-choice-promoting organization for a decade. Congress.gov and Betsy Devos Twitter
New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker recently voted against confirming Betsy DeVos as secretary of the Department of Education, even though he's worked with her school-choice-promoting organization for a decade. Congress.gov and Betsy Devos Twitter Photo Credit: Congress.gov and Betsy Devos Twitter

HARRINGTON PARK, N.J. -- Sen. Cory Booker continued a longstanding trend of his political career on Tuesday when he voted against Betsy DeVos' leading the Department of Education: he confounded folks' expectations.

Prior to joining the Senate, Booker was mayor of Newark from 2006-2013, and he got flak from both ends of the political spectrum, as he tried to address a variety of issues.

For example, some folks on the right opposed what Booker called "common-sense solutions" to gun violence, and some on the left criticized his increased use of surveillance to combat crime.

This past Tuesday, Booker joined with his 45 Democratic colleagues, the Senate's two Independents and two Republicans to create the slimmest margin of victory for any cabinet nomination in U.S. history. It was the first time a vice president had ever cast the tie-breaking vote for such an office.

While Booker's vote against DeVos is unsurprising on a partisan basis, the vote raised some eyebrows, given his history of advocating for charter schools -- a position not generally popular on the left.

In a Wednesday opinion piece in the National Review, Ian Tuttle argues that Booker's vote was simply political posturing, given his history regarding charter schools and with DeVos.

Booker hasn't just said charter schools should be an option, Tuttle points out. He also worked with the American Federation for Children -- which advocates for vouchers and school choice -- for at least a decade. And DeVos was one of the AFC's founders, and she was its chairwoman until November 2016.

New Jersey's junior senator has also attended AFC annual conferences, including its most recent. In his speech this May to conference attendees, Booker bragged on the high-performing charter schools operating in Newark. You can watch that speech here.

Booker was an ambassador for Newark's school system. He asked for -- and received -- quite a bit of money for it, including big donations from Oprah Winfrey and Mark Zuckerberg, Tuttle notes.

In late 2008, Winfrey's foundation gave a half-million dollars each to a charter school and a private Catholic school in Newark, and spokespeople for those organizations credited Booker for the donations.

Given his history of backing options besides traditional public schools, Tuttle reads Booker's vote against DeVos as political pandering to teachers unions, in a move to bolster a presidential run in 2020.

In a Tuesday Facebook post, Booker said he was "frustrated and deeply saddened by the 51-50 vote" to confirm DeVos, and that he and others will fight for students' safety and equal access to education.

Tuttle sees pretense, in Bookers' view of DeVos as a threat to student safety. But the safety issue had come up, in her hearing, during a discussion of the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act, a federal law civil rights law that applies to disabled students.

As the Washington Post reported in January, DeVos had "declined to say whether she believes that all schools receiving taxpayer funding -- public, public charter, or private -- should be held accountable to the same performance standards.

"She also declined to say whether such schools should be required to report suspensions and expulsions, and incidents of bullying and harassment, to the federal government."

"After her confirmation hearing, I still have serious concerns about Betsy DeVos leading the Department of Education," Booker had said in a news release the day after her hearing.

Republican Tennessee Sen. Lamar Alexander, who chairs the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor & Pensions, denied a Democratic request for a second hearing on DeVos after her paperwork had made its way through the Office of Government Ethics.

Booker also told NJ.com that DeVos wouldn't meet with him.

"I have long-supported targeted, accountable school choice initiatives to help ensure that poor children in chronically failing schools have the opportunity to receive a quality public education," he continued, in his news release.

"But there are a number of departures between Mrs. DeVos policy beliefs and mine that prevent me from supporting her."

Booker is not isolated, in his concerns. The fight over DeVos' confirmation has been fierce, and some in Congress have noted record-setting amounts of calls and other constituent commentary.

Tom Pietrykoski, Booker's New Jersey press secretary, told Daily Voice Friday that Booker's opposition was simply because of what he heard -- and didn't hear -- during DeVos' confirmation process.

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