Shame on Republican Sens. Lisa Murkowski and Susan Collins. In announcing their opposition to Betsy DeVos' nomination to be secretary of education, they are caving to one of the most destructive special interest groups in politics: teachers unions.
These unions are an outright enemy of the conservative movement and parents of at-risk children in communities across our nation. A defeat for Devos is a victory for the country's largest teachers union.
The reason for the dissent is simple: Just follow the money. According to the Center of Responsive Politics, the National Education Association contributed $2,000 to Collins in 2002 and 2008 and gave a total of $23,500 to Murkowski. Fear of losing the NEA campaign contributions is pushing the senators to protect their own interests, not the interests of our nations schoolchildren.
Since President Trump tapped DeVos to drive his education agenda, union bosses launched an unprecedented character assassination campaign against her. They falsely blamed DeVos for the failures of Detroit's failing public schools instead of holding accountable the city's corrupt politicians and morally-bankrupt education insiders who have relegated generations of poor African American kids to second-class status. They attacked DeVos' Christian faith and claimed she was bigoted against the LGBT community, even though she has a history of supporting LGBT people.
They have attacked DeVos for not having depth on education issues and for never being a public school teacher, while ignoring the fact that she's spent nearly 30 years on the front lines of the education reform debate and has worked hand in hand with Republican and Democrat lawmakers in dozens of state capitols to provide access to better schools for hundreds of thousands of kids. They have even tried to hang dubious conflict of interest claims around her neck, even though DeVos has altruistically donated millions of her own money to improve education outcomes for at-risk children.
In case you haven't heard, DeVos is a billionaire. The notion that she would endure this kind of public flogging to cash-in is absurd.
The unions and Democratic smear campaign against DeVos is exactly why good people avoid public service. The fierce nature of their attacks is in direct proportion to the threat to the failed status quo that DeVos represents. What is clear from their scorched earth campaign is that Democrats will stoop to any depth to kowtow to the bosses inside the teachers unions that finance their campaigns.
It is truly disappointing that Murkowski and Collins would join the education establishment's indefensible: defense of the status quo.
In explaining their opposition to DeVos, the two GOP senators echoed the talking points of the union bosses, with a new wrinkle. They said that DeVos' so-called fixation on school choice would somehow hurt rural schools. It is true that DeVos is an unwavering champion of school choice, but so is Trump. It will be his agenda that the next secretary of education implements.
Trump also says that he wants state and local control of education. DeVos will work with our new president to downsize the federal bureaucracy, shifting more power and money over K-12 schools back to the states. Under the Trump-DeVos model for reform, policy makers in Alaska and Maine will have far greater flexibility to craft solutions to the needs of rural students than they do now. The Murkowski-Collins line of attack that DeVos would somehow be hostile to rural schools is nothing but a red herring cooked up by teachers unions.
School choice is paramount to driving real improvement in student achievement. Without more competition and more parental control, we will never see real gains in student learning. For decades, politicians of all strips have tried to fix education by throwing more money at the problem. As a result, we spend more on K-12 schools than we do on the military. Yet the results are incredibly disappointing. Less than 40 percent of American high school graduates are college- or workforce-ready. All the while, critics are outraged that DeVos wants to give poor kids the opportunity to attend better schools.
The education establishment and the politicians who make excuses for it are embarrassing themselves. During former Presidnt Barack Obama's last week in office, a report trickled out from his Department of Education that was a full-frontal indictment of his "spend more" philosophy. According to the report, the $7 billion that Obama pumped into the nation's worst public schools was completely squandered. According to the bureaucrats' own study, there have been no corresponding gains in student test scores, high school graduation or college enrollment from the unfortunate children stuck in these terrible schools. None.
DeVos has the guts to say enough is enough. She will stand up to the unions so parents can have a larger voice in how and where their kids are educated. For these "sins," she has been brutally vilified. Let's be clear: Murkowski and Collins abandoned the conservative education reform movement in joining the teachers union assault against DeVos.
The good news is that conservatives can still carry the day. If the other 50 Republicans in the Senate hold strong against the liberal assault on our party's most important education philosophy, and Vice President Mike Pence gives the tie-breaking vote, DeVos will be confirmed. This will be a tremendous victory for our nations schoolchildren and empower DeVos to take the fight right to her detractors who bear the responsibility for the abysmal performance of K-12 schools.
Alice Stewart (@alicetweet) is a CNN political commentator and former communications director for Ted Cruz for President.
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