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Friday Fact Check: Did DeVos Really Write Sununu’s Back-to-School Plan?

Did Betsy DeVos write the Sununu administration’s back-to-school plan?

According to Democrats Andru Volinsky and Dan Feltes — absolutely.

“This Sununu-Edelblut-DeVos agenda document abandons the state’s responsibility to ensure a safe return to schooling,” Executive Councilor Volinsky said of the Sununu administration’s guidance document.

“Instead of releasing an education plan by New Hampshire, for New Hampshire, Governor Sununu outsourced New Hampshire’s education reopening plan to be written by Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos’ D.C. consultants,” state Sen. Feltes said in a statement.

But do the facts, and basic logic, back their claims?


On Tuesday, Gov. Chris Sununu released his administration’s 56-page guidance document for reopening New Hampshire schools. The key word, Sununu reiterated, is “flexibility.” His plan contains almost no mandates (a key point we’ll come back to later) and instead offers “guideposts,” as Sununu calls them, for schools to use should they choose to have classroom instruction, Zoom learning from home, or some hybrid of both.

Granite State Democrats and the state’s teachers unions immediately expressed their displeasure. “We had hoped for a set of minimum safety standards for all schools to achieve before they were safe to reopen. Instead, we received 56 pages of ‘shoulds’ not ‘shalls,'” said NEA-NH President Megan Tuttle.

“With less than two months before school starts, families and teachers wanted certainty; Sununu just delivered chaos,” Feltes said.

“Let’s call Sununu’s ‘plan’ for what it really is — the state abandoning its responsibility to ensure the health, safety, and well-being of students and teachers,” added Volinsky.


At Thursday’s presser, a writer from the liberal website InDepthNH asked Sununu, “Why did you let [federal Education Secretary] Betsy DeVos’s people write the guidance document for reopening schools?” The question was based on accusations from Feltes and Volinsky, which were in turn inspired by an exchange between Volinsky and New Hampshire Education Commissioner Frank Edelblut at Wednesday’s Executive Council meeting.

Volinsky asked the commissioner, “Who wrote the document and who approved it?”

In a winding, nine-minute series of questions and answers, much of it in education bureaucracy jargon, Edelblut described the process, beginning with the 60-member School Transition Reopening and Redesign Taskforce (STRRT).

“Based on that input from the STRRT committee… the U.S. Department of Education worked along with a consulting firm, AIR, to take all that content and put it into the framework the STRRT committee had organized,” Edelblut said. “That’s the result you see here. Much of the drafting was done by the Department of Education, then it was weighed in on, and a medical perspective was added by Dr. Chan, resulting in the final product we have now produced.” [emphasis added]

And, Edelblut conceded, the final document did not go back to the STRRT committee for their approval before Gov. Sununu released it.

Therefore, Feltes and Volinsky claim, the Sununu administration’s policy was, “written by Betsy DeVos” and foist upon the people of New Hampshire.


The first, and most obvious, fact is, whoever wrote the Sununu guidance, it is certainly not the DeVos plan. President Trump and his education secretary have made it perfectly clear that their plan for America’s schools is: “Send all the kids back to class — now!” Just ask union president Tuttle, who tweeted out this quote from the White House spokesperson:

“The President has said unmistakably that he wants schools to open, and when he says open, he means open in full, kids being able to attend each and every day at their school.”

If DeVos really had written Sununu’s plan, it would mandate classroom instruction whether local schools liked it or not.

The second fact is that a cursory view of the meetings of the STRRT (watch the exciting, edge-of-your-seat taskforce meetings here!) reveals the guidance released by Gov. Sununu reflects the will of the task force. As Edelblut told Volinsky, the STRRT laid out “high-level” general guidance on topics like transporting kids and personal protective equipment in the classroom, and the final product reflects those views.

And then there’s the fact that the Sununu administration’s plan isn’t a “plan” at all. They made the decision, one supported by the STRRT, to avoid mandates and let local officials decide what’s best for local schools.

As Sununu told NHJournal on Thursday, “Local control works.”

“I don’t know why they [Feltes and Volinsky] don’t have faith in teachers, administrators and parents to find solutions for themselves,” Sununu said. “I have all the faith in the world that the teachers, parents and principals know how to manage their classrooms, not a governor sitting in the corner office. I don’t know why they don’t have more faith that folks other than themselves might have the solutions for these problems.”

But what about those federal education consultants? Or the “drafting done by the Department of Education?”

It turns out the private consulting firm AIR has been running federal “Comprehensive Centers” since 2005, under contracts awarded by both the George W. Bush and Obama administrations.

They get federal tax dollars to facilitate meetings and draft documents — things that volunteer organizations do for themselves for free all the time, by the way. But wasting tax dollars on redundant government bureaucrats is hardly unique to the DeVos Department of Education.

And AIR’s role is literally laid out in page one of the documents launching the STRRT process back in May:

“The work will be facilitated by the Region 1 Comprehensive Center from the U.S. Department of Education and facilitated by AIR. The work of the facilitator(s) will include:

  • Facilitation of large group discussions
  • Support the development of the report.

In other words, hold meetings and write a report. Which they did. No conspiracy here.


Whether you love or hate Sununu’s local-control approach to reopening schools, there’s no denying: it’s his plan. DeVos and the feds had nothing to do with it.

It’s also, as Sununu likes to point out, a very “New Hampshire” plan, leaving power at the lowest levels of government.

It didn’t have to go this way. Governors in other states are using their power to push mandates on local schools, and Sununu could certainly follow their example. He chose not to, and the STRRT backed his approach.

The claim that Betsy DeVos “wrote,” or even had a role in, the Sununu back-to-school guidance simply doesn’t stand up to scrutiny.


Only the phrase “drafting done by the Department of Education” keeps Democrats from getting an “F.”

There’s a big debate brewing over local control of schools in the era of COVID-19. There’s no reason for Democrats to invent things to fight about.

How Do Hassan, Shaheen Stack Up to Their Own Criticisms of Betsy DeVos?

Some local headlines of the Betsy DeVos confirmation hearing showed Sen. Maggie Hassan making her mark early in her first term.

Hassan emerges as fierce critic of Trump’s Cabinet nominees,” reads an article from the Associated Press. Hassan’s questioning of President Donald Trump’s nominee for secretary of education earned her 15 minutes in the national spotlight after she hammered DeVos on the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act and school vouchers.

But a look at Hassan’s record shows she has taken advantage of school choice, despite questioning DeVos about it.

Hassan sits on the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor & Pensions (HELP) and voted against DeVos’s nomination on Tuesday in a committee vote. The freshman senator, whose son has cerebral palsy, is an expert on public education for students with disabilities. Her son, Ben, went to public high school.

But DeVos has received a significant amount of criticism from Senate Democrats and the media due to her lack of experience in the public school system and for being in favor of school choice and school vouchers. The National Education Association (NEA) and the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) are also against her nomination.

However, six of the 10 Senate Democrats on the HELP committee attended private or parochial schools, or have children and grandchildren attending them, according to information obtained by The Daily Caller News Foundation Investigative Group.

Sens. Robert Casey Jr. of Pennsylvania, Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island, and Michael Bennet of Colorado sit on the committee and have never attended public school, according to the investigation.

For Hassan, her husband Tom, served as the principal of the elite Phillips Exeter Academy, where their daughter, Margaret, attended, as well. Tom was censured last year for failing to disclose sexual misconduct charges against a faculty member.

Hassan received approximately $10,000 from the NEA during her Senate campaign and the union also spent $1.5 million against her opponent, incumbent Republican Sen. Kelly Ayotte. AFT also spent $4,400 against Ayotte.

“It’s just bizarre to see people who have exercised those school options suggesting that it’s somehow problematic or malicious to extend those options to all families,” said Frederick Hess, executive editor of Education Next, to the Daily Caller.

Hassan’s record on school choice is also revealing. While she was a supporter of public charter schools as governor, she did veto a bill that would enable small school districts to pay tuition, at public or private schools, for students of any grade level if it is not available within their resident district.

On a recent interview with NPR, Hassan reiterated her support for charter schools, but she took issue with DeVos position of a voucher system.

“I am a proud supporter of public charter schools here in New Hampshire, as well,” she said. “But there is a real difference between public charter schools, which can be established working with local communities and educators to fill a particular need in the public school system and provide more alternatives and more choice for learning styles and families – than a voucher system, which diverts money from the public school system, generally and often doesn’t cover the full cost of the private school that the student is attending.”

During DeVos’s confirmation hearing, Hassan also questioned her on her role in her family’s foundation, the Edgar and Elsa Prince Foundation. While it’s being debated if DeVos was accurate with statements during the hearing about having a role or not, she is also being charged that she and her family have donated extensively to groups which promote the idea that lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) students must undergo “conversion therapy.”

The claim comes from Rep. Mark Pocan, D-Wis., who cites their large donations to the Focus on the Family group as evidence. Politifact found his claim to be “Mostly False” saying they found indications that the group supports conversion therapy, but there was no evidence that they believe that LGBT students must undergo it.

A recent report by The New York Times, highlights another side of DeVos not seen in public. She has supported her gay friends and advocated for LGBT rights as far back as the 1990s. This shows her coming out in support significantly earlier than a lot of Democrats who are questioning her on these beliefs.

“At that time, two colleagues recalled, she made accommodations for a transgender woman to use the women’s restroom at a Michigan Republican Party call center,” the article states. She also used her political connections to help persuade other Michigan Republicans to sign a brief urging the Supreme Court to legalize same-sex marriage in 2015, though she did not sign it herself.”

“This aspect of Ms. DeVos’s personal story is not only at odds with the public image of her and her family as prominent financiers of conservative causes, but it also stands out in a nascent administration with a number of members who have a history of opposing gay rights,” the report continued.

Hassan has been a champion for LGBT rights in New Hampshire, dating back to her time in the state Legislature. In June 2016, she issued an executive order that banned discrimination in state government based on gender identity.  

However, her colleague, Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, hasn’t always been supportive of LGBT rights. Shaheen has announced that she will vote “no” on DeVos’s nomination.

As governor, Shaheen initially opposed same-sex marriage. After Vermont signed into law a “civil union” bill in 2000, Shaheen said she didn’t support it.

“I believe that marital unions should exist between men and women,” she said at the time.

However, she came out in favor of marriage for same-sex couples in 2009 and became a sponsor of the Respect for Marriage Act in the U.S. Senate. She also voted in favor of the repeal of the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy in the military and supported government recognition of same-sex spouses of military members and other government personnel.

Although Hassan and Shaheen didn’t mention DeVos’s stance on LGBT student rights when they said they wouldn’t vote in favor of her nomination, it is interesting to note the differences in time of support between them of LGBT causes.

Shaheen agrees with Hassan, saying that DeVos is “unqualified” to be the next secretary of education. The full Senate is expected to vote on DeVos’s nomination on Thursday.

The Similarities Between Frank Edelblut, Betsy DeVos Are Not Surprising

During the seven-hour hearing for Frank Edelblut’s nomination as the state education commissioner, there were several comparisons of the former state representative to Betsy DeVos, President Donald Trump’s pick for secretary of education.

Both DeVos and Edelblut have little experience with the public school system. They are both strong supporters of school choice.

While Edelblut is a product of public schools himself, he and his wife homeschooled their seven children. Edelblut did receive his bachelor’s degree in business at a public institution, the University of Rhode Island, and eventually received a master’s in theological studies at the Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology.

Since 2009, Edelblut has served on the board of the Patrick Henry College Foundation, which is partnered with the evangelical Christian college in Virginia. This affiliation became a contentious point during his hearing between Edelblut and Democratic Executive Councilor Andru Volinsky of Concord. According to the college website, affiliates of the school must attest to a “Statement of Biblical Worldview” and follow “God’s Creative Works,” which is the belief that God created humanity and started with Adam and Eve as the basis for human ancestry.

“You will be the chief educator to whom all of the science teachers in our state will report,” Volinsky said. “Do you subscribe to this such that the science teachers need to worry about whether you will require creationism to be taught alongside evolution?”

Edelblut said he believes “there are other understandings of human origins.”

“And finally, as the commissioner of education, I will not have jurisdiction or responsibility for the development of curricula,” he said. “That I believe remains in the domain of the science teachers and the local school boards.”

And that’s where advocates for Edelblut believe that his lack of public education experience could be one of his biggest strengths.

With Gov. Chris Sununu’s nomination of his former Republican gubernatorial primary rival (Edelblut came in a close second, only losing by about 800 votes), it signals a departure from previous state education commissioners, who all had some sort of public education experience. It was a point Volinsky wanted to make, by reading the resumes of every education commissioner for the past 40 years.

But Sununu doesn’t want another career educator in the driver’s seat. He wants Edelblut, a businessman, to be in charge of this billion dollar industry. Many opponents don’t like that he’s against Common Core and is pro-charter schools. And they say he’s looking to “destroy public education.”

“Nothing could be further from the truth,” he said. “I want to see public education work well for all students. My job will be to implement the policies of the state board of education.”

The state board of education sets policy, curriculum, and standards for the public schools in the state. While the state education commissioner plays a role in the process, it’s ultimately not up to him to make those decisions.

Edelblut said he supported outgoing education commissioner Virginia Barry’s focus on “personalized learning.”

“Home education is personalized learning,” he said. “It recognizes that each individual student is unique, that they develop differently and at different paces.”

The same sentiments could be found in DeVos’s confirmation hearing earlier this month.

“Parents no longer believe that a one-size-fits-all model of learning meets the needs of every child,” she told the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions. “And they know other options exist, whether magnet, virtual, charter, home, faith-based or any other combination.”

DeVos attended a private high school in Michigan and also received a bachelor’s in business from Calvin College. Her four children all went to private school and although she has never worked in a school, she is very philanthropic toward school systems that she personally supports. She backs school choice and school vouchers, allowing students to attend private schools with taxpayer support.

DeVos has been one of the most contentious cabinet nominees for Trump. But it can be argued that Trump and Sununu are looking at education in a similar manner. Trump sees DeVos as a strong advocate for school choice and able to use the budget for the education department to make education better for all students.

Both DeVos and Edelblut don’t necessarily have that much power when it comes to changing policy in the positions they will likely hold. They help set the agenda, but ultimately, any changes go through Congress and the states, and in New Hampshire, that means through the state board of education and the Legislature.

It’s no surprise that Trump and Sununu are facing a lot pushback on their respective nominees for education. After all, Sununu was one of Trump’s supporters during the presidential race, his support never wavering. But many supporters of the two politicians appreciate the comparison of Edelblut and DeVos. They both symbolize change and a departure from the Democratic “status-quo,” they have felt for the past eight years in D.C. and 12 years in the Granite State.

The people of New Hampshire should expect more similarities between the federal government and New Hampshire (or with Sununu and Trump) to pop up during the next two years.


Follow Kyle on Twitter.