February 8 2017
In a first ever-move, the vice president voted to break a tie in the Senate to confirm a cabinet secretary, Betsy DeVos, who is now secretary of education.
Why was the confirmation of DeVos, for the education department, for heaven's sake, one of the hardest fought confirmation battles in American history? Two words: union money. Unions are adamantly against school choice. DeVos is a long-time champion of school choice.
The Wall Street Journal has an excellent editorial this morning on what this unprecedented struggle to fill the education job says about the Democratic Party:
[DeVos] can now get on with her work, but this episode shouldn’t pass without noting what it says about the modern Democratic Party. Why would the entire party apparatus devote weeks of phone calls, emails and advocacy to defeating an education secretary? This isn’t Treasury or Defense. It’s not even a federal department that controls all that much education money, most of which is spent by states and local school districts. Why is Betsy DeVos the one nominee Democrats go all out to defeat?
The answer is the cold-blooded reality of union power and money. The National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers are, along with environmentalists, the most powerful forces in today’s Democratic Party. They elect Democrats, who provide them more jobs and money, which they spend to elect more Democrats, and so on. To keep this political machine going, they need to maintain their monopoly control over public education.
Mrs. DeVos isn’t a product of that monopoly system. Instead she looked at this system’s results—its student failures and lives doomed to underachievement—and has tried to change it by offering all parents the choice of charter schools and vouchers. Above all, she has exposed that unions and Democrats don’t really believe in their high-minded rhetoric about equal opportunity. They believe in lifetime tenure and getting paid.
The Democrats staged an all-night talkathon against DeVos--it was an attempt to peel off the one more Republican vote necessary to defeat DeVos. (Senators Lisa Murkowski, Alaska, and Susan Collins, Maine, both recipients of teacher union contributions, broke ranks and voted against DeVos.) It was theatre. Of the absurd. If anything, it made breaking ranks by another Republican even less likely. But the Democrats were playing to their base.
The Wall Street Journal singles out Senator Corey Booker, an erstwhile supporter of school choice, who sat on the board of a school choice organization chaired by DeVos, but who voted against her confirmation. He is now positioning himself to run for president and it would be impossible to get the Democratic nod without the teacher unions.
See IWV's statement on why DeVos' confirmation signals an exciting time for public education.