Commentary, Trump Administration

NC teacher pens open letter to Burr re: Trump nominee for Education Secretary

NC Policy Watch friend and occasional contributor, Forsyth County public schoolteacher Stuart Egan, has authored another one of his fine open letters to a powerful politician about our public schools. The latest is a passionate plea directed to Senator Richard Burr regarding Donald Trump’s troubling plan to nominate Michigan Amway queen Betsy Devos as Secretary of the U.S. Department of Education.

Senator Burr,

As the senior senator of our state embarking on your third term in office, your voice in the national arena carries both weight and experienced perspective. And while you and I share many differing opinions on issues that affect our country, I do believe that we share a passion to make sure that all students have access to a great public education.

In preparing to cast my vote this past election, I did review your website to glean your perspective on some issues that seemed to become lost in the national debate with what might be one of the more bombastic presidential elections in history. On your website, you posted on op-ed you wrote for the Fayetteville Observer entitled “Giving our children a better future.”

In it you made statements such as:

“Our children are the future of North Carolina, and they represent the best of us. I am proud to be an avid defender of North Carolina students in the Senate.”

“As a part of my commitment to defending North Carolina students, I was proud to offer an amendment to fix a long-standing inequality in education funding that has shortchanged North Carolina’s teachers, schools and low-income students for over 15 years.”

“My amendment makes sure that federal education funding meant for schools that serve kids from low-income families actually goes to those very schools.”

“This means that with more education dollars coming to North Carolina, we will have more teachers in North Carolina helping our students get a great education.”

“We have made great strides this Congress to deliver control of K-12 education back to local communities, while making sure limited federal education funding is going to the communities that need it the most. But making sure that our children are getting the best education possible is going to be an ongoing fight for North Carolina families in Washington. I’m pledging to continue fighting for North Carolina’s schools, teachers and students, because a brighter future for North Carolina students means a brighter future for North Carolina.”

What I sense in these words is a commitment to our public schools.

In fact, you are the son of a former public school teacher and a graduate of R.J. Reynolds High School in Winston-Salem. I teach at another school in Reynolds’s district, West Forsyth High School, and am proud to report that Reynolds still holds an incredible reputation as a historically effective institution and I know many of the fantastic teachers who work there.

However, we are experiencing in North Carolina a decline in teacher candidates. Why? Because public education is under attack. And when public education is under attack by “re-forming” efforts like vouchers and unregulated charter school growth then communities suffer. Your wife is a leading realtor in the Triad area. I feel very confident that she could tell you the effect that the public school system has on the “value” of property in our communities.

I say all of this because President-elect Trump has appointed a candidate to lead the nation’s public schools who very well may be the most unqualified individual to ever be considered for the position.

And you have the power to help keep that from happening.

When you ran for reelection, you touted your experience. Experience in certain fields seems to be an important factor when running for leadership positions.

Betsy DeVos has none whatsoever. In fact, when searching her background of ill-fated credentials, I found that:

  • Betsy DeVos has no degree in education — meaning she is not even educated in how to educate.
  • Betsy DeVos has no teaching experience.
  • Betsy DeVos never attended a public school or state supported university. None of her children have either.
  • Betsy DeVos’ monetary contributions to Christian-based schools and evangelical organizations have been conservatively estimated at $200 million.
  • Betsy DeVos is totally anti-union and believes that teachers are paid too much.
  • Betsy DeVos supports vouchers.

The idea of a privileged billionaire “privatizer” leading the nation’s public schools is more than contradictory or antithetical; it’s diametrically repugnant.

So, I ask that you do not confirm her as our Secretary of Education.

Senator, your election is over. You can now fully attend the business of our country while focusing on how our state can be best represented. If any of the words in the aforementioned op-ed you wrote still have weight, then Betsy DeVos cannot become our schools’ leader.

You said on your website , “My mother was an elementary school teacher who understood the value of education and its power to lift people out of poverty.”

Betsy DeVos does not have that understanding.

Stuart Egan
Public School Teacher
Parent of Two Children in Public Schools


  1. Patti Blaine

    November 29, 2016 at 4:39 pm

    My sentiments exactly. I challenge all teachers and retired educators (like myself) to voice our concerns to sen. Burr.

  2. Donna Toomes

    November 30, 2016 at 7:32 am

    I also agree and would expect Senator Burr to speak up on the inappropriateness of this selection. Senator Burr please stand up for the best interests of all of our children – those attending public schools and those dedicating their lives to making a difference in the lives of the children of our state.

  3. elizabeth

    November 30, 2016 at 10:13 am

    As a happily retired teacher, I see this teacher-bashing by multimillions across the country. In fact, in my school district, we had a school superintendent who fits many of the descriptions of Ms. Devos with the exception of the donations to evangelical organizations. He tried to run the district as though it were a business and the result has been disastrous. Had it not been for the non-stop attack on teachers and demands that had us working 65 hours a week, I would have stuck with it. The candidates for teaching positions are of such poor quality now and that reinforces the old expression, “if you can’t do anything else, you can always teach.”

    Thank you for sharing this letter to the senator. It could have been written by any teacher in any state and I intend to send it to my senator, the one who was our former school superintendent!

  4. Kathy

    November 30, 2016 at 8:14 pm

    I respectfully disagree. If a parent chooses another venue to educate their children, the monies allotted to that child should be for him/her. Parents should not be forced to pay taxes for an educational system with which they do not agree.

  5. Laura

    November 30, 2016 at 10:00 pm

    Parents who educate their children via private schools do not need a tax break. There are many couples who do not have any children at all. If they were exempt from paying taxes simply because they do not have children, we would have even less money allocated to our public schools. It’s my understanding that we pay taxes to go towards public education because we, as citizens ought to CARE that ALL children who will eventually contribute to our society’s future deserve a good education. Otherwise, our country will land up with many uneducated, possibly illiterate individuals wondering why they can’t find a job to support their families! Our elected officials obviously can’t see the big picture if there own money is getting in the way!

  6. Rob Slater

    November 30, 2016 at 11:10 pm

    “Parents should not be forced to pay taxes for an educational system with which they do not agree.” Parents, as a distinct class, are not taxed as such. Citizens are. And citizens are not taxed without representation. Public education is not a consumer good, as inane contemporary business models of the educational enterprise would have you believe. Public education, despite the appalling trends of the past couple of decades, is a sacred trust the efficacy of which will assure that a participatory, representative democracy will thrive…or wilt. The best interests of all of us are well served by a sound public school system. There is no opt out clause because you, Kathy, as an individual, might not happen to agree with a particular course of study, textbook, or the cut of a given teacher’s jib. Tax dollars are not assigned to a given student. Tax dollars support the enterprise of public education as it benefits all of us. By your “argument,” Kathy, people without children in public school should not have to relinquish that portion of their property tax which subsidizes local schools, at all! Kathy, your lack of understanding of the nature and importance of public schools and their relationship to a functioning society is sobering, and, sadly, not at all uncommon.

  7. Tracy Shumack

    December 1, 2016 at 8:20 am

    I have to say, I disagree with this letter. I believe that you are not looking at the bigger picture here. This woman does not need a degree in education to be able to do this job. That is not a criteria for the job. You say that NC is losing teachers because of pay, or whatever…well Devos is not a bad person for sending her children to a private school, or for supporting private schools and charter schools. There are a lot of excellent schools out there that are private, and are run a great program.
    The truth of the matter is, our public school systems are horrible. We all know this. In fact when our current Governor took office we were listed at 47th in 2013, to 41st in 2016 for teacher pay. In the education it rose as well, but all you people wanted to get rid of McCrory, and not be happy with anything. Yet, here is fact checked information for you…the years prior all under Democrats you teachers got nothing, and our numbers dropped drastically.

    The increases scheduled to take effect next year should move average teacher pay to $50,150—a 10 percent increase since McCrory was sworn in. But that figure is still far behind the national average, which was more than $58,000 last school year.

    Like other states in the southeast, North Carolina has trailed the nation’s average since at least 1999. But between 1999 and 2001, under Democratic Governor Jim Hunt, the state closed the gap to just a couple thousand dollars.

    The gap began to widen in 2002 after Hunt left office.

    Then the recession hit. In 2009 the Democratic-led legislature froze teachers’ salaries. Republican lawmakers kept salaries frozen when they took control of the General Assembly in 2011. Teachers received no significant pay raises and no step increases for four years. That sent North Carolina’s average salary down, while the national average and the southeastern average continued to climb (after a slight dip).

    Beginning with the 2014-2015 school year, teacher salaries started to rise again, but remain among the bottom states in national rankings.

    Truth is, our system is not great, and having someone “not” a public school guru to see if they can fix it and make it better I think is a great thing. You are shooting this woman down and don’t really have a clue what she could do for our education system.

  8. Becky

    December 1, 2016 at 9:03 am

    Excellent letter and my sentiments exactly. Thank you, Stuart Egan, for being such a precise voice speaking for the children of not only our state but for our country. I add my voice to yours.

  9. Jackie w. Jones

    December 1, 2016 at 11:59 am

    My husband and I are retired public school educators. My husband was a teacher, assistant principal , associate Superintendent as well as a Superintendent of two NC school district, I was a classroom teacher of elementary students, children with disabilities,district wide facilitator to assist teachers ,director of curriculum for K-6 and at the NC school for the deaf. Served with wonderful teachers as principal to serve at risk children, taught high school middle school student and finally supervised student teachers and interns at ASU. We always stood for the academic needs of all students. Our country needs a strong advocate for public education. A person who has experienced public schooling and worked to improve education for all students. Our tax money is budgeted to support teachers , principals and all other employees that touch the lives of children. Public education is essential for all. Charter schools provide services for others who do not choose to be inclusive with others trying to make a difference in the public sector. Please consider thus seriously-all children do not have wealthy parents that can provide private schooling and none us of live on an island that instulates us from our shared culture.

  10. Janet

    December 1, 2016 at 12:41 pm

    Senator Burr, please use your influence to advocate for equality of education for all children.

  11. Stephen and Suzanne

    December 1, 2016 at 2:06 pm

    Senator Burr,
    We totally concur with all of the opinions expressed by Stuart Egan. Please take these into consideration. Our daughter was a N.C. Teaching Fellow before the program was shut down. She fulfilled her obligation in the public school systems of the state of N.C. as well as in other states in which she served as a math and language arts teacher. Both of our daughters graduated from the public school system in N.C. and we support public education. We do not believe that Mrs. DeVos has the qualifications for this position. We respectfully request that you not support her nomination and consider others who are better qualified for the job. Thank you.

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