What do you suppose would happen if an education reform advocate who spent decades throwing bricks at the public school system from the outside suddenly became the ultimate insider: secretary of education?
Well, much to the horror of self-serving teachers unions that sprinkle money throughout the Democratic Party to protect the status quo and make sure the interests of students who attend public schools don’t interfere with those of the grown-ups who work there, we’re about to find out.
That’s because – despite the best efforts by Senate Democrats to derail the nomination of Betsy DeVos to head the education department – the Michigan-based champion for school choice, charter schools and other lifeboats for students in sinking public schools was confirmed last week.
As the former chairwoman of the Michigan Republican Party, DeVos is no stranger to politics. But even she must have thought the Senate proceedings were more than a little strange.
In a rare move, Vice President Mike Pence had to walk into the chamber and – in his role as Senate president – cast the tie-breaking vote.
Who knew that Democratic politicians cared so much about public education in America?
They don’t really. If they did, they would pass legislation to improve it by raising standards, instituting merit pay for teachers and holding the line on accountability. Instead, they take their marching orders from those who want to keep a broken system just the way it is.
The casual observer of politics – that is, those of you who are spared the task of following every development and instead get to focus on more uplifting pursuits such as selling Girl Scout cookies and taking your kids to baseball practice – could be forgiven for thinking that education secretary was suddenly the most important Cabinet position in Washington.
It’s not. With Iran conducting missile tests, Russia determined to return to its earlier prominence, supporters of the Islamic State carrying out attacks throughout the West, North Korea bragging that it has the capability of launching missiles that reach San Francisco, and the Trump administration attempting to further scrutinize those who try to enter the United States from seven terrorist-infested countries and keep out Syrian refugees altogether, the jobs of defense secretary and secretary of state are more important.
And yet, Senate Democrats let the nominations of James Mattis (defense) and Rex Tillerson (state) cruise through, while going to the mat to stop DeVos?
This has everything to do with the fact that the Democratic Party is now a wholly owned subsidiary of teachers unions, or as they should heretofore be referred to, “the root of the problem.”
You had better believe that Democratic senators, who probably want to keep their cushy jobs and understand that you don’t do that by angering your benefactors, stood up and took note when union leaders expressed concern about Trump’s pick to lead the Education Department.
Randi Weingarten, one of the most strident of them, is president of the American Federation of Teachers. She called DeVos “the most ideological, anti-public education nominee” since the position of education secretary became a Cabinet post.
Seriously? When she was in the classroom, Weingarten must have taught drama.
This isn’t about kids. It’s about power. The teachers unions hate being challenged. They’re ruthless and vindictive. And they don’t forget a slight.
Ask Arne Duncan about that. President Barack Obama’s first education secretary was previously the superintendent of public schools in Chicago, and he made an enemy of the unions by demanding more accountability. And when Duncan went to Washington, they continued to harass and oppose him at every turn. They made his life miserable. And he was a Democrat.
The most popular line of attack against DeVos was that she never attended or worked in a public school. That argument, from the left, would carry more weight if liberals had likewise kicked up a fuss when Obama nominated Elena Kagan to the Supreme Court. Despite serving as the dean of Harvard Law School and U.S. solicitor general, Kagan had never been a judge.
Even so, given that DeVos has spent much of her life and a lot of her own money to improve education in America, she might have a thought or two about how to run a department created for that very purpose.
Ruben Navarrette can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.