Senators deluged with calls on Betsy DeVos‘ nomination

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Protesters were outside Sen. Lamar Alexander's office in opposotion to Betsy DeVos. Alexander has backed DeVos despite calls from thousands. In a FB post, he also called out Democrats for trying to block DeVos' appointment as ed secretary. Larry McCormack / The Tennessean

Betsy DeVos, a 59-year-old billionaire from Michigan, has been criticized nationally for her stances on school choice as well as not not attending, working for or sending her children to public schools.(Photo: Carolyn Kaster/AP)

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WASHINGTON – Tennesseans have flooded the offices of Sens. Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker with phone calls and emails voicing their opinions on whether Betsy DeVos should be confirmed as the new education secretary.

So how many calls have the senators received? They won’t say.

Both senators’ offices dodged when asked Monday how many calls and emails they’ve gotten and whether the tally is running for or against DeVos.

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“Tennesseans with whom I have talked feel passionately for and against Betsy DeVos, and I have welcomed their comments,” Alexander said in a statement released by his office.

Corker’s office also declined to provide data on the calls and emails the senator has received about DeVos.

“Our office hears from thousands of Tennesseans each week on a wide range of issues,” Corker’s office said in a statement. “Sen. Corker is aware of every call, letter and email we receive, and as always, he is grateful for input and appreciates his constituents sharing their thoughts with him.”

“We encourage Tennesseans to Sen. Corker by writing or calling our D.C. office or any of our six offices located across the state. Tennesseans can also the senator 24 hours a day, seven days a week by visiting corker.senate.gov and clicking the “Email Me” tab. Every message received from a Tennessean through our website receives a response.”

The Senate will vote Tuesday on whether to confirm DeVos, a Michigan billionaire and philanthropist who has been one of President Donald Trump’s most controversial cabinet picks.

DeVos, who did not attend public schools and has never worked in a public school environment, is facing criticism from Senate Democrats who say she knows too little about education policy and would undermine public schools. Teachers’ unions and liberal groups also oppose her nomination and have been urging their members to call senators and voice their disapproval.

Martha Stephens protests outside of Sen. Lamar Alexander's office on Monday, January 30, 2017 to protest the nomination of Betsy DeVos as Secretary of Education. (Photo: SAUL YOUNG/NEWS SENTINEL)

Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s office said Monday the California Democrat has received more than 95,000 calls, letters and emails about DeVos’ nomination and that they have been running overwhelmingly against her confirmation.

Alexander, in particular, has been a target of the callers because he presided over DeVos’ confirmation hearing as chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee.

In his statement, Alexander said he will vote to confirm DeVos “because she will implement the new law fixing No Child Left Behind the way Congress wrote it: to reverse the trend toward a national school board and restore local control of public schools.”

Under DeVos’ leadership, “there will be no Washington mandates for Common Core, for teacher evaluation or for vouchers,” Alexander said. “She has been a leader in the movement for public charter schools — the most successful reform of public education during the last 30 years. And she has worked tirelessly to help low-income children have more choices of better schools.”

Corker said late last week that he, too, will vote to confirm DeVos, saying she has passionately advocated for access to a quality education “for all children – regardless of gender, race or socioeconomic status.”

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Educators who have spoken out against DeVos urged the Tennessee senators to say how many calls and emails they’ve gotten about her nomination.

“Sen.  Alexander and Corker’s email accounts, phone lines and staff resources are funded by U.S. taxpayers and voters, including those of us in Tennessee,” said Will Pinkston, a Nashville school board member.

“If they’re keeping tallies of the feedback they’re getting, they should be transparent about it and share that information with the public,” Pinkston said. “If they won’t share the tallies, or if they’re not keeping count, it just shows that they don’t care what Tennesseans think and this potential confirmation was rigged against public education from the get-go.”

Natalie Williams, a former Germantown Municipal School District board member who was the board‘s legislative liaison, has been outspoken against DeVos on social media and said she has talked to representatives from about a dozen Senate offices across the country, representing all the states where she taught previously.

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Williams said she was able to get through to all of their offices, including Corker‘s, but didn‘t have the same luck with Alexander.

“I probably tried to call Lamar Alexander’s office well over 20 times,” said Williams, who now teaches at the Bodine School, a private school in Germantown for students with learning disabilities. “I literally have lost count and have never been able to get through, unable to leave messages.”

Williams said she followed up with Alexander‘s office by sending emails, but hasn‘t received any replies.

Jim Wrye, a lobbyist for the Tennessee Education Association, said it would be good to know the number of calls the senators have gotten about DeVos – “for or against.”

Many parents and teachers across the state have complained about not being able to reach the two lawmakers’ offices, he said.

“A lot of DeVos’ ideas, such as for-profit charters, Tennesseans have rejected,” Wrye said. “It would be good to listen to the folks back home.”

Reporters Jason Gonzales of The Tennessean and Jennifer Pignolet of The Commercial Appeal contributed information to this story.

Reach Michael Collins at, at Twitter or mcollins2.

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