Education has become a front-burner issue in a bid for re-election by U.S. Sen. Gary Peters in Michigan because of the stark contrast between him and his opponent, he says.
Peters has fought back against the destructive budget cuts and policies of U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos. His Republican challenger, John James, is being aided by a super PAC that received nearly $1 million in contributions from the DeVos family in December.
Six members of the DeVos family were the only contributors of donations totaling $800,000 to the Better Future MI Fund which formed on Oct. 31 last year with a focus on unseating Peters, according to the super PAC’s first campaign filing on Jan. 31.
Under federal elections law, individuals are limited in how much they can give to a political candidate, but super Political Action Committees can raise unlimited money in support of a candidate as long as no coordination exists between the two.
That’s why in this election year Michigan will be a battleground state in a fight that will determine the future direction of public education, Peters told attendees at the MEA Winter Conference in February.
It’s time to replace Betsy DeVos, who has zero experience with public schools as a parent, teacher or administrator, Peters told the crowd of hundreds at MEA’s biggest event of the year: “Our children deserve better.”
From squandering millions of dollars on charter schools that never opened to letting predatory colleges off the hook for defrauding their students, “her policies have ranged from bad to downright cruel,” he said.
“The Department of Education has antagonized and attacked our public schools and all of you as educators and folks who work in public schools. At a time when budgets are tight and every dollar can make a difference, they’re focused on funneling money away from schools that most need it in order to pad the coffers of private and charter schools.”
In February, MEA announced a continuing recommendation for Peters in his re-election bid this November.
The son of an MEA member, Peters is committed to investing in quality public schools to create opportunities for students whether they go on to four-year colleges or pursue an occupation through career-technical education.
“Everyone has a different path in life, but it’s our job to ensure every child gets the same opportunity, no matter who they are, and that’s through our public schools,” Peters said. “That’s what I will continue to fight for in Washington, whether it’s for STEM education or preparing for a four-year degree or to focus more resources on Career Technical Education.”
Peters has represented Michigan in the U.S. Senate since 2015 following six years in Congress and seven years in the state Senate. He previously worked as an investment advisor and rose to the rank of lieutenant commander in the U.S. Navy Reserve after volunteering at age 34.
In his keynote speech at the conference, Peters echoed the farewell address of President George Washington, who warned the fledgling nation to beware of political polarization, which could lead to the rise of a demagogue who inflames people’s dark passions and fears.
“We’re there folks,” he said, rallying the conference crowd to step up to the challenge of redefining America. “That is not who we are; that is not our values.”
Public education is part of his DNA, Peters said. He graduated from Rochester public schools where his father worked as a high school and middle school English and social studies teacher for more than 30 years.
“Even now I will have people come up to me and say, ‘Your father made a difference in my life. I remember—he was my favorite teacher.’ All of you are making a difference in people’s lives, and I thank you for what you do every day.”