News, Tracking the Cuts: The Dismantling of Our Public Schools, Trump Administration

In DeVos nomination, Sen. Richard Burr to cast confirmation vote on one of his key contributors

Betsy DeVos, President Trump’s nominee for U.S. Secretary of Education

Despite significant push-back from progressives and public school backers, members of a key U.S. Senate committee are expected to confirm President Trump’s nominee for U.S. Secretary of Education, Michigan billionaire Betsy DeVos, on Tuesday.

As critics point out, DeVos, a controversial school choice Republican in Michigan, has no professional experience in public schools. Nevertheless, conservatives tout her as a reformer who will aid children languishing in long-struggling public schools.

But here’s one overlooked component of this developing story: Richard Burr, North Carolina’s senior senator and a member of the Senate confirmation committee that could advance or turn back DeVos on Tuesday, has benefited from the political largesse of DeVos and her wealthy Michigan family in recent years.

According to the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics, a campaign finance watchdog in D.C., DeVos’ family made individual contributions to Burr’s campaign in 2015 totaling $43,200. Family members each gave $2,700, the maximum amount per individual allowed for a candidate during one election cycle.

Of course, given the murkiness of federal election laws concerning Super PACs, it’s hard to gauge exactly how much DeVos cash went Burr’s way.

But it’s worth noting Burr, in the midst of a tight race with Democrat Deborah Ross last year, reportedly received a major boost weeks before Election Day from groups like the Senate Leadership Fund, a conservative Super PAC that pledged last September to spend a whopping $8 million on North Carolina television ads.

Records show DeVos’ family funneled $2.25 million to the Super PAC in 2016.

Burr is expected to cast a vote in support of DeVos Tuesday, despite blistering criticism from groups such as the American Federation of Teachers, the N.C. Association of Educators and more.

22 Comments


  1. David Ritchie

    January 30, 2017 at 3:28 pm

    Senator Burr. Like you I was born in Virginia but in a mountain community (Criders, VA) near Appalachia. There were 7 students in my class at a two room school until the 5th grade. I am only one of two persons from that mountain area that has earned a Ph.D. I have been on the faculty at one of NC’s two major research universities for almost 39 years. The other individual in on the faculty at James Madison University in Harrisonburg, VA. If it had not been for public education, neither of us would be where we are today. Both of us are able to contribute to the economies of our respective states and are inspiration to the younger individuals growing up in that mountain community. My research has contributed to the agricultural industry in NC, the southern US and internationally.

    Public education and someone who understands and appreciates the importance and value of public education is more than ever needed as U.S. Secretary of Education. I strongly do NOT view Ms. deVos as having this expertise.

    Thank you for consideration of my opinion as a resident and registered voter in the state of NC.

  2. Barbara Coulson

    January 30, 2017 at 3:29 pm

    Ah yes. Who was it who said “Every check from a deep-pocketed donor comes with its own IOU to be cashed somewhere down the line”. Betsy DeVos has openly said that she expects something from her donations. And Now Sen. Burr is toeing the line.
    He is a disgrace to our Government, our Congress, and our State.

  3. Susan Thomas

    January 30, 2017 at 5:06 pm

    Senator Burr, Please look at the situation in the Executive Branch and be the voice of reason. Be the hero in this story. Don’t support cabinet member nominees whose only qualification is being insanely rich and able to donate for support. What is happening there? Is Trump planning on bulldozing the country? What happened to the State Department? Where are our checks and balances, because Trump is crazy…like a fox, and the USA is the hen house.

  4. Linda

    January 30, 2017 at 7:58 pm

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but I was reared to believe that our representatives are elected to represent US, not their own personal pocketbooks.

  5. Alicia

    January 30, 2017 at 8:44 pm

    Hope he realizes that he just wrote his ticket out of Washington DC. I too am a product of the public school system. I am also a graduate of the North Carolina Community College system in coastal NC and a graduate of Western Carolina University. I worked my butt off to pay for my schooling at WCU only getting minimum help from my parents periodically. When I walked the stage in May of 2015 I walked without a student loan and completely debt free of my schooling. It was this hard work that made me appreciate my education and I know I am fortunate. Not because I relied on my parents dime for school but because it taught me about responsibility. Every kid who wants a higher education is not that lucky. For this reason I am concerned about Betsy DeVos and her agenda. Furthermore her apparent lack of unwillingness to support kids with disabilities who attend our public school system is scary. Her cloudy answers made it seem like she doesn’t value them and believe they should have a right to get a quality education.

  6. Dave Ragsdale

    January 30, 2017 at 8:56 pm

    Disappointed but not surprised.

  7. Pamela Poston

    January 30, 2017 at 9:46 pm

    When you cease to represent constituents you become useless to us. Your vote for DeVos is a vote against America. You are a disgrace to your office and to our state.

  8. Liisa

    January 30, 2017 at 11:25 pm

    I have already written to you to tell you what I think. I am just going to copy Pamela Poston’s note because it is exactly what I want to say. And as I said in my email to you – your constituents are paying attention. And we will NOT vote for you next time! When you cease to represent constituents you become useless to us. Your vote for DeVos is a vote against America. You are a disgrace to your office and to our state.

  9. David Augere

    January 31, 2017 at 2:14 am

    Dear Senator Burr, There was a time that I would write a polite letter regarding some injustice with our system. I am not going to be polite because I am tired of your simple form letters. I would like you to think of this. When you get old and die, what is your tombstone going to say and what legacy do you want to smear on the family Burr name. How about on your tombstone we write, ” I am a money whore” or “I am for sale to the highest bidder”, or”sorry kids, “I, Senator Burr, will do anything for money. even it it means hurting my constituents” or “Screw NC, I am from Virginia” We could say, “I am immoral, because I need the money” or “Burr: I’m corrupt because everyone else is.” I invite North Carolina residents work on Senator Burr’s epigraph. I am sure that over 20,000 educators will help develop a lasting legacy for the Burr family. Just vote for DeVos.

  10. David Augere

    January 31, 2017 at 3:10 am

    The better strategy is go after Burrs money source. I sure if Bank of America received enough request from concerned citizens, Burr would listen to Bank of America’s PAC. Here are Burr’s money sources or the companies PAC’s.

    Reynolds American
    $94,175 $84,175 $10,000
    2 Metlife Inc
    $55,950 $45,950 $10,000
    3 Scana Corp
    $49,050 $44,050 $5,000
    4 Altria Group
    $42,800 $32,800 $10,000
    5 General Electric
    $41,950 $31,950 $10,000
    6 Bank of America
    $41,200 $31,200 $10,000
    7 Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance
    $40,850 $30,850 $10,000
    8 Northrop Grumman
    $40,300 $30,300 $10,000
    9 Prudential Financial
    $38,000 $28,000 $10,000
    10 Blue Cross/Blue Shield
    $33,750 $13,750 $20,000
    11 Elliott Management
    $33,400 $33,400 $0
    12 McGuireWoods LLP
    $33,200 $23,200 $10,000
    13 Womble, Carlyle et al
    $32,800 $32,800 $0
    14 Ernst & Young
    $31,150 $21,150 $10,000
    15 Duke Energy
    $30,800 $20,800 $10,000
    16 Nucor Corp
    $30,700 $20,700 $10,000
    17 Lowe’s Companies
    $30,000 $20,000 $10,000
    17 NorPAC
    $30,000 $14,900 $15,100
    19 FMR Corp
    $28,750 $18,750 $10,000
    20 Wells Fargo
    $27,300 $17,300 $10,000
    *registrants, or active lobbying firm
    This table lists the top donors to this candidate in 2011-2016. The organizations themselves did not donate, rather the money came from the organizations’ PACs, their individual members or employees or owners, and those individuals’ immediate families. Organization totals include subsidiaries and affiliates.
    Why (and How) We Use Donors’ Employer/Occupation Information
    METHODOLOGY
    NOTE: All the numbers on this page are for 2011-2016 and based on Federal Election Commission data available electronically on Saturday, January 09, 2016. (“Help! The numbers don’t add up…”)
    Feel free to distribute or cite this material, but please credit the Center for Responsive Politics. For permission to reprint for commercial uses, such as textbooks, contact the Center.
    Count Cash & Make Change

  11. JIM HALL

    January 31, 2017 at 5:56 am

    When you cast your supporting vote for Besty Devos I hope you remember it when you are packing your bags an being throw out of ypu current senate office after you are defeated in the up coming election cycle of either 2018 or 2020 cycle you are doom to be like donald trump says you are fired by the voters of north Carolina good riddance to bad rubbish

  12. Susie

    January 31, 2017 at 9:06 am

    Are you in the least bit ashamed of yourself for having been bought?

  13. Denise Tyson

    January 31, 2017 at 10:03 am

    Senator Burr, a confirmation vote for Betsy Devos will be putting your political self-interests above what is best for the education of America’s youngest and brightest citizens. North Carolians deserve better representation in Washington.

  14. Robert J. Blok, Sr.

    January 31, 2017 at 11:25 am

    Barry Obamas SEC EDUCATION was Arnie Duncan. Duncan NEVER attended a public school (University of Chicago Lab Schools and Harvard-Private). He received a BA in Sociology, not Education. Duncan never was a teacher nor an education administrator. He closed down many public schools in Chicago in favor of charter schools and school choice vouchers. Duncan also sent his kids to private schools, not public. Yet, where is the outcry from you libs over Barry’s pick, Arnie Duncan?

    Betsy DeVos comes from a fine family who cares deeply for the education of ALL children. As a fellow graduate of Calvin College in Grand Rapids, MI, I am aware of her fine background. Her family literally took Grand Rapids downtown from a slum and made it into the finest city in Michigan with the “Magic Mile, fine arts, museums, businesses and the like.

    Senator Burr’s vote to confirm Ms. DeVos will be a vote FOR the children of America to give them
    a chance to attend quality schools and break out of the tired business as usual public school system run
    by the unions whose only purpose of their existence is in keeping their union member teachers in
    the classroom when they should not be teaching.

    Thank you Senator Burr. You represent NC very well and please keep up the good work.

  15. Angela Jeffries

    January 31, 2017 at 12:11 pm

    How do you sleep at night after selling your soul?

  16. David

    January 31, 2017 at 5:41 pm

    I fully support Mrs. Betsy DeVos as Secretary of Education. I strongly believe our public schools are failing our children and I am convinced freedom of choice is their best hope and that of our nation long-term. I have two children who graduated from the public schools in NC but did not receive the instruction or rigor needed. My wife and I supplemented that as best we could while working and raising a family. I would have loved to send them to a private school but we could not afford that option. If we were granted a voucher for the amount spent on each child in public school we could have managed.

    School choice will allow children from lower income families to educate their children well. I think it is intuitive that loving parents will take an active interest in finding a good school for their children. For those parents who sadly ignore their child’s needs it will at least create competition and thus drive accountability (which we often lack today) which will increase the probability they would land in a good school. Four generations back my grandfather was illiterate, but he saw the value of an education and sacrificed to send his children to school to the sixth grade. That enabled his children to raise their standard of living and grow personally and create a culture that valued learning and education.

    Ask yourself what the general public reaction would be if the government passed a law mandating that the government would decide what college or university one could attend even when one must pay for it themselves? I think there would be widespread disapproval. As one liberal leaning friend told me “that’s communism”. My question is why is that different from the K-12 education? They claimed public education is ‘free’. It is not free. The public school system is one of the largest tax burdens I pay. I paid it before my children entered public schools and will long after they have left. So we are paying, only the government takes my pay and then predetermines how it will be spent and I have no say in that matter and thus a loss of liberty.

    The outcry opposing school choice is comprised primarily of those who have vested financial interests and do not want to lose control of the money and power or perhaps fear competition and those who falsely believe it will destroy public schools as the ‘best’ children leave. I agree that school choice will give the power to parents where it belongs for the reasons stated. It will foster competition which will improve the education available overall. The last critique is telling, in short they want the best students to stay hostage to a system too often managed to a low standard. But again competition will drive excellence and accountability and I suspect increased parental engagement in those schools.

  17. Krishnamurty Yeddanapudi

    January 31, 2017 at 6:20 pm

    Please give a chance equally to people with means and no means. Charter schools are no answer to our poor education.
    Please vote no to DeVos for education secretary.

  18. Kathy Ivey Hathaway

    February 1, 2017 at 9:39 pm

    Please vote no Devos

  19. Bill Sanders

    February 3, 2017 at 9:51 am

    Senator Burr,
    Do not be compromised public education for the sake of a donation. The resume and interview screams no on this one. Please vote no to DeVos.

  20. Mary Blythe

    February 4, 2017 at 3:00 pm

    Please reconsider your vote for Betsy DeVos. Be the person that you feel proud of when looking in the mirror. Ms. DeVos is not the “best of the best” for this position. She may have given you money for your campaign, but you represent the hard working citizens of North Carolina. Be a hero, vote against Betsy DeVos.

  21. Leslie Clark

    February 6, 2017 at 5:55 pm

    I just wish someone would do what’s right without thinking of their own selfish gain. Just disappointed with our government.

  22. Ken Shealy

    February 7, 2017 at 3:32 pm

    You will be up for re-election I’m sure and you can bet we will do everything in our power to see you do not get re-elected. Will campaign very hard against you. You are just like all that are in Washington. Our educational system is doomed with a mentor in a private school as Secy of Education. What a slap in the face to our children and our grandchildren, to educators who are very qualified and to our family who is blessed with educators.

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