Analysis: DeVos Confirmation Represents Victory for Reformers, Blow to Teachers Unions

Guy Benson
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Posted: Feb 07, 2017 4:01 PM
Analysis: DeVos Confirmation Represents Victory for Reformers, Blow to Teachers Unions

Despite furious lockstep opposition from Senate Democrats and two Republicans who are among the few in their party who receive campaign contributions from teachers' unions, Betsy DeVos was confirmed to be the next Secretary of Education. Critics' objections to her nomination questioned her qualifications and suggested that she was hostile to public education, while others cited her family's wealth, and sought to assassinate her character.  Instances of hypocrisy and eye-widening (answer is "C," in a 2003 writing) double standards were commonplace.  In spite of this pitched partisan battle -- which required Vice President Pence to break a 50-50 Senate deadlock; the first time in our nation's history this step was needed to conclude a cabinet confirmation fight -- DeVos was gracious in (narrow) victory:

DeVos' ultimate ideological crime is her consistent commitment to siding with students over powerful teachers' unions -- whose leaders have occasionally let slip where their priorities lie. A critique of unions, by the way, is not tantamount to a criticism of teachers. As a product of excellent public schools, I am forever grateful to the dedicated and talented professionals who provided me with a strong education. But what DeVos recognizes is that millions of students are denied the opportunity to attend great, or even competent, public schools. This is deeply unfair, and forcing low-income students to remain locked in chronically failing schools, due only to their zip codes, is immoral. As such, DeVos has been a leading advocate for school choice, which empowers parents and students to break the cycle of underperformance. This compassionate and genuinely progressive idea enjoys bipartisan support, even if that reality was not reflected in today's vote.

Some of DeVos' harshest detractors warn that she'll "destroy" public education and that school choice rips crucial funding away from public schools. On the latter point, throwing more taxpayer dollars at systemic problems is a predictable and tired non-solution. Per-pupil funding per student is not necessarily correlated with educational outcomes, as the California vs. Texas case study illustrates. And if we are concerned about the allocation of resources, perhaps we'd be better served to focus on lessons from these breathtaking wastes of tax dollars on empirically failed federal experiments. As for the melodramatic and vastly-overstated premise that an Education Secretary could singlehandedly crush the institution of public schools in America, aside from that not being true, this overblown fear at least underscores an important lesson on limiting the power of centralized government:

Too often, teachers' unions prioritize the desires of adults (including protecting disgraced or hopelessly lazy dues-paying members) over the needs of children. The elevation of a woman who cares more about opportunities for children than bending to the political demands of powerful, deep-pocketed government-sector unions is a welcome development on its face. Whether DeVos up for the job remains to be seen; but now she'll have her opportunity. I'll leave you with a salutary statement from former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, who has been a tireless advocate for education reform, as well as a 2013 tweet from the man who made this all possible:

“I congratulate Betsy DeVos on her confirmation as our nation’s next Secretary of Education. The President made an excellent choice to lead the Department of Education. Millions of families share Secretary DeVos’s vision for disrupting a failed status quo that has denied too many children access to a quality education. It’s time to upend the entrenched special interests that put adults above genuine reforms that will raise student achievement. I hope the senators who opposed Secretary DeVos’s nomination will now put aside the tired arguments of the unions and come together to prioritize the needs of students. Under Secretary DeVos’s leadership, I am confident the federal government will loosen its grip on our education system and return power to the states and parents where it rightfully belongs.”