With debate on Betsy DeVos’ nomination ended, President Donald Trump’s pick for the nation’s top education post will likely require the rare situation of a sitting vice president to trek over to the Senate to break a 50-50 tie in order to get her over the finish line.
It’s unusual for an education secretary nominee to be so controversial. Here’s why DeVos’ nomination is the subject of much debate:
1 Establishment politicians and traditional media have once again ignored grassroots activists who have been battling against federal overreach in education for nearly a decade.
These conservative activists, however, are among the most vocal opponents to DeVos’ nomination, and they want the federal Department of Education to be dismantled.
While on the campaign trail, Donald Trump talked about the same idea and also said Common Core was a “disaster.” DeVos, however, has been a prominent supporter – with both her money and her service – of groups that have championed Common Core.
Many establishment Republican politicians who have supported Common Core are endorsing DeVos.
Former GOP presidential candidate Jeb Bush failed to achieve his party’s nomination mainly because of his stance on two issues: immigration and Common Core. Nevertheless, Bush says he is so “excited” about the nomination of DeVos – who has been a generous contributor and board member to his education foundation.
Many of those who assisted with the education transition team and some who are now already sworn in as education department staff members are Bush’s colleagues – and Common Core supporters.
Ohio Gov. John Kasich – a vocal supporter of Common Core – has ramped up support for DeVos as her nomination appeared to be hanging by a thread. Kasich referred to the organized parents in his state who were fighting to repeal Common Core as “hysteria” and “a runaway internet campaign.”
During the Republican National Convention last year, DeVos was an at-large delegate for Kasich.
DeVos’ responses to questions from Senate Democrats show the education secretary nominee plans to make implementation of the massive federal Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) a priority – and that’s what worries the thousands of grassroots education activists who are largely the base of the Republican Party.
Though DeVos responded to a question about Common Core with the observation that “it is the job of states to set” their standards, she began her response with the statement, “If confirmed, I will implement the statutory requirements of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA)…”
As American Principles Project senior fellow Jane Robbins and Indiana education activist Erin Tuttle point out, ESSA requires every state to submit its plan for standards for approval to the U.S. Department of Education.
“ESSA, which replaces NCLB, does mandate alignment,” they write.
“If she’s confirmed, I hope Mrs. DeVos will realize that too many states have remained in Common Core because of all the federal pressure and threats – yes, including under ESSA – that incentivize them to do so,” Robbins tells Breitbart News. “She should vow to remove those pressure points and make it clear to states that the feds won’t penalize them in any way if they replace Common Core with good standards. If she does that, there may be a stampede for the exits. That would be a great thing for our students.”
2 Many Americans don’t understand what “school choice” means.
Betsy DeVos, Jeb Bush, and many establishment politicians and education elites would have Americans believe “school choice” automatically translates into “education freedom.” Various mechanisms, however, exist to create school choice, and school vouchers, one of the most oft-mentioned – if incentivized by the federal government – could increase regulation of private and religious schools and even homeschooling across the United States.
Because vouchers are a transfer of taxpayer funds, the schools that accept them could open themselves up to more regulation regarding curriculum, testing, and federal mandates – all in the name of “accountability.”
In a column at Truth in American Education, Robbins observes that Mike Petrilli of the pro-Common Core and Bill Gates-funded Fordham Institute “thinks this increased regulation of private schools is a good thing, and a reason to support DeVos.”
“Of course, if private schools must administer the state tests, they must teach Common Core – in other words, they must become just like the public schools parents are trying to escape,” she writes. “What kind of ‘choice’ is this?”
Both parties want to be in control of education. The GOP would like to have control over the workforce that could be developed from students living in America in the same way the left wants to have control over political ideology taught in public schools. In the end, however, neither group puts the needs of students and their parents’ decisions for their education first.
3 The left is hysterical about everything to do with Donald Trump.
The left’s meltdown over Trump’s presidency is a common thread throughout many issues. Just as leftwing women are rushing to stock up on a four-year supply of birth control because they believe Trump will ban contraceptives, media have focused on DeVos’ fondness for Christian schools and have decided she will attempt to impose her Christian views on every student in America.
However, the Washington Post reports that Fuller Seminary president Rich Mouw, who served on a committee with DeVos, said about her, “I wouldn’t consider her to be right wing. She’s a classic free-enterprise conservative. She takes public life, art and politics very seriously.”
The report continues:
DeVos did not support Trump’s candidacy, telling the Washington Examiner in March that he “does not represent the Republican Party.” Her family foundation has donated between $10,000-$25,000 to the Clinton Foundation, according to an analysis by The Washington Post.
DeVos is like a mix between the philanthropic efforts of Melinda Gates and the business-mindedness of Mitt Romney, said Shirley Hoogstra, president of the Council for Christian Colleges & Universities, an umbrella for Christian schools.
It’s unclear whether DeVos will fit in with Trump’s other cabinet choice, like incoming White House chief strategist Stephen K. Bannon.
4 Democrats are receiving thousands of phone calls, emails, texts, and faxes from supporters of the teachers’ unions fearful that DeVos will enact national privatization of public schools.
According to The Hill:
DeVos wasn’t initially expected to be one of Trump’s more controversial picks, but her nomination has been a lightning rod for criticism from both sides of the aisle as well as public school advocates, teachers unions and disability rights groups.
DeVos’s nomination has rankled Democrats, who have framed her as an opponent of public schools. The billionaire GOP donor has been a vocal supporter of charter schools and school choice, which gives parents an alternative by opting for a charter or private school.
5 DeVos has donated tens of thousands of dollars to Republican senators.
Yes, Democrats are guilty of this, too. If nothing else, DeVos’ donations to many of the Republicans who will be voting for her continues the image of the Beltway “swamp” that Trump has vowed to drain as president.
“Given all the DeVos money floating around Washington, how likely are Republican senators to ask her some fair but critical questions about a woman who would oversee some $70 billion in annual public funding and 5,000 public employees?” asks Joy Pullmann, managing editor at The Federalist.