Our Editorial: Keep fighting for Betsy DeVos

The Detroit News

You’re probably tired of hearing how Betsy DeVos will either be the savior of public education or how she will destroy it. We certainly are. The truth is that she would do a fine job leading the U.S. Department of Education, and would be good for America’s schoolchildren, no matter what sort of school they attend.

Republicans should keep fighting for approval of her appointment.

DeVos is awaiting a full floor vote, after she was approved by a Senate committee earlier this week (a straight party-line vote, of course).

The overheated rhetoric surrounding her nomination has been fueled by teachers unions who are quaking at the thought of having a school choice advocate in that role. DeVos has consistently stood up for poor families who have few education options.

These same labor groups detested President Barack Obama’s education secretaries, and for the same reasons. Teachers unions don’t want teacher accountability, or to lose their ability to hold children hostage in failing public schools.

President Donald Trump couldn’t have chosen a candidate who would more rile the public school establishment. The unions are exerting pressure on lawmakers who’ve benefited from their deep pockets. Two of the latest to fall victim to these demands are on the Republican side of the aisle, which makes DeVos’ confirmation more tenuous. Without those two votes, it’s a 50-50 tie, assuming no other Republicans defect and Vice President Mike Pence would have the deciding vote.

Sens. Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska announced on Wednesday they wouldn’t vote for DeVos. Why? They said they didn’t think DeVos had enough experience in public education, and since they represent more rural districts, they claim school choice doesn’t mean much to them.

That’s a weak argument. DeVos has a strong record of working to make all schools more accountable. And her work with charter schools is relevant, since they are public schools.

“She appears to view education through the lens of her experience of promoting alternatives to public education in Detroit and other cities where, no doubt, she has done valuable work,” Collins said.

Is that a bad thing? Just look at the billions of dollars spent on education during the Obama years and the lack of results it produced. Former Education Secretary Arne Duncan tried his best to spur school reform and best practices with his school improvement grants, including the Race to the Top competition. But a recent government report concluded the $7 billion spent and did nothing to improve student outcomes.

A more likely explanation for the GOP senators’ decision has to do with money. The Wall Street Journal reported that Murkowski received campaign donations from the National Education Association. Collins has also gotten cash from the largest teachers union in the country.

Here’s something else for DeVos’ detractors to keep in mind. Even if she doesn’t make it through the process, Trump is not going to offer up someone the unions will like. Other names floated for the job include school reformer and union buster Michelle Rhee and Larry Arnn, the president of Michigan’s conservative bastion, Hillsdale College.

Rather than mounting a takeover of local public schools, DeVos would be a proponent of moving more control back to the states and minimizing the ineffective federal interference. That alone makes her an ideal candidate, given the failure of the federal government to move the education needle.