As Education Secretary, DeVos would put kids before unions

Below is a commentary by Freedom Foundation of Minnesota CEO Annette Meeks which appeared in the January 26, 



As education secretary, DeVos would put kids before unions

Last week, the U.S. Senate started holding confirmation hearings for President Trump’s cabinet nominees. The anxiety is high and the vitriolic attacks on some of these appointees reminds most Americans why they hate politics. Yet the verbal assaults on Trump’s nominee to become secretary of education, Betsy DeVos, are particularly shocking. They are emblematic of the ongoing war that has been waged by education union officials desperate to control every aspect of American public education.

Much of the sabre rattling against Mrs. DeVos’s nomination is coming directly from union bosses at the National Education Association, otherwise known as the teachers union. This makes sense since the NEA has, since the creation of the U.S. Department of Education in 1979, believed that the agency is a wholly owned subsidiary of the union and, as such, the cabinet secretary should acquiesce to the union’s agenda.

Yet there hasn’t always been a U.S. Department of Education and its policies to fight about. Throughout most of American history, education policy was directed by local school boards elected in their respective communities and dominated by parents and taxpayers who wanted to preserve good, locally controlled schools.

During the 1976 presidential campaign, then-presidential candidate, former Georgia Gov. Jimmy Carter, pledged that, if elected, he would establish a separate federal agency devoted to education. Union officials had long wanted a separate education department on the federal level, believing that their agenda received short shrift since it played what some considered a minor supporting role at the federal Department of Health, Education and Welfare. After candidate Carter acquiesced to the NEA’s proposal, the NEA made its own history by endorsing Carter’s candidacy.

Early in 1978, President Carter made good on his promise to the union and announced his proposal to create a new education department. After Carter’s election, the NEA had spent time and money organizing a massive lobbying effort to push Carter’s proposal through Congress. The NEA’s coalition was formidable and included nearly every association and union formed by public school officials and employees. As the legislation worked its way through Congress, it is interesting to note that much of the vocal opposition to creating a massive new federal agency devoted to education policy came from liberal Democrats in the House. Former Colorado Congresswoman Patricia Schroeder was staunch in her opposition to this new agency and said at the time, “No matter what anyone says, the Department of Education will not just write checks to local school boards. They will meddle in everything. I do not want that.” Yet three years after his election, President Carter signed the bill into law on Oct. 17, 1979, officially creating the U.S. Department of Education.

The NEA’s goals for the new agency were audacious 38 years ago and continue to be today: The union bosses believe that the only qualified candidate to lead a massive, $600 billion public education system would be one of their own — an educator or someone with an affiliation with the various union education groups. Looking back at the 10 education secretaries nominated by three Republican and three Democratic presidents, the NEA has expressed disappointment with nearly every nominee. Most recently, union bosses have let it be known that they strongly oppose the nomination of Mrs. DeVos to become Trump’s Secretary of Education.

Twenty years ago, my husband was fortunate to serve with Betsy DeVos on the Republican National Committee. Mrs. DeVos was, at the time, the chair of the Republican Party of Michigan and, as fellow Midwesterners, we got to know her, her politics and, most importantly, her heart while serving side-by-side as volunteer party leaders.

You learn a lot about a person when you see where and how they volunteer their time. Betsy DeVos has devoted decades of her life and literally millions of her personal assets toward the goal of public-school reforms that promised a superior education for every American child. It’s a goal she should be proud of: Every school-aged child should have a shot at the American dream. With a great education, that dream can become reality. Yet more and more kids are trapped in some of our nation’s failing public schools — they lose that opportunity every day as our federal government spends increasingly more on education with little or no results — especially for those most vulnerable students.

The stakes couldn’t be higher as our country continues to witness relentless fights for control of our nation’s schools — a war between Washington, D.C., insiders and our local community schools. Lost in these battles are countless billions of taxpayer dollars and the potential for the students who are left behind. Isn’t it time that our U.S. Department of Education puts the needs of kids ahead of the demands of the teachers’ unions? Confirming Betsy DeVos as Secretary of Education would be a tremendous first step in doing just that.

Annette Thompson Meeks is CEO of the Freedom Foundation of Minnesota.

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