January 31 2017
Update: Betsy DeVos was approved in committee by a 12-11 vote along party lines. The nomination now goes to the full Senate.
Today is the day: Education secretary nominee Betsy DeVos, whose advocacy for school choice has made her public enemy number one for the powerful education unions, is scheduled to come up for a vote in committee. The committee will vote on whether to send the nomination to the floor for a vote of the full Senate. The Wall Street Journal sums up the threat to DeVos' confirmation:
Senate Democrats have been roughing up President Trump’s Education Department nominee, calling Betsy Devos unfit and worse: a philanthropist who dedicates her fortune to improving schools for poor children. The question is whether some Republicans will also vote against Mrs. DeVos and hand the teachers unions a major victory.
The newspaper notes that Republican Senator Susan Collins from Maine and Senator Lisa Murkowski, who received donations and an endorsement from the National Education Association in 2010 when she lost to a Tea Party candidate and went on to win as an independent, may opt for a vote against DeVos. (The DeVos family has also contributed to Murkowski.) When the nomination goes to the floor of the Senate, there would need to be one more defection to defeat the DeVos nomination. This is a significant showdown between the unions and school choice:
At least the school-choice agenda improves educational outcomes, as students in charter schools typically gain months of additional learning. Teachers unions pay to preserve a monopoly that has failed to improve test scores or graduation rates. That long record of failure is reason enough not to let unions dictate who serves in the President’s cabinet.
With so much at stake, it is perhaps not surprising that DeVos has been smeared by the opposition arrayed against her nomination. Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, was on TV last night charging that DeVos had destroyed public education in Detroit, a theme of the anti-DeVos campaign. Alice Lloyd has a good piece in the Weekly Standard on these charges, which DeVos called "false news" in her hearings.
The New York Times in particular ran an editorial repeating this charge. As Lloyd points out, Max Eden, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, has said that the Times' conclusions rely on "alternative facts." Eden wrote that three important studies that compare Detroit's charter and public schools (one from Stanford University, one from the center-right Mackinac Center and one from Excellent Schools Detroit (ESD), a local education nonprofit) found that the charters outperform district schools. Eden called the Times conclusion "statistical nonsense."
What we will see tested today is whether the teacher unions, major donors to the Democratic Party, have the muscle to defeat a school choice standard bearer.