Unions over Children: Republican Senators Bail on DeVos
By Olivia Grady
On February 1, 2017, Republican Senators Susan Collins (Maine) and Lisa Murkowski (Alaska) gave speeches on the Senate floor, saying that they would oppose Betsy DeVos, President Donald Trump’s nominee for Secretary of Education.
Their comments put into jeopardy the confirmation of Ms. DeVos, who needs 51 votes. Without their support, there are currently only 50 Senators, all Republicans, who would vote for her, and Vice President Mike Pence would add the 51st vote, breaking the 50-50 tie. If just one more Republican opposes DeVos however, DeVos could not be confirmed.
Why would these two purportedly Republican Senators oppose DeVos? They both received campaign contributions and endorsements from the teachers’ unions.
Senator Collins for example was endorsed by the National Education Association (NEA), one of the two largest teachers’ unions, in 2008. Her response:
"By investing in education, we invest in the future of our country," said Senator Collins. "Throughout my time in the United States Senate, I have made it a priority to invest in education, to expand access to higher education, and to support our talented and dedicated teachers. Despite their challenging jobs and modest salaries, Maine's teachers work hard each and every day to provide a quality education for all students, helping them to realize their full potential. I am honored to receive their support and promise to continue to work to make a difference on their behalf."
But the United States does “invest in education” or more accurately spend taxpayer dollars on the education system. The average state per pupil expenditure was almost $11,000 in fiscal year 2013, the same as the average tuition at a private school and much higher than the average cost of parochial school. Compared to other Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development countries (OECD), America spends the third highest amount on our education system.
What do we get with that money?
The United States either performs at or below the average OECD country. A poor return on “investment.”
In Maine, for example, the average per pupil expenditure in 2014 – 2015 was $10,990.51. In 2015, Maine performed slightly above the United States average on the National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP), but only 41 percent of Maine fourth graders were proficient in math. Maine eighth grader scores in Math and Maine fourth and eighth grader scores in Reading were even worse.
And the teachers’ unions are trying to prevent the confirmation of a lady who could improve public schools through free-market competition.
What are their reasons?
On November 30, 2016, the National Education Association posted an article on Education Votes titled: “5 reasons why Trump pick Betsy DeVos is wrong for Secretary of Education.”
On January 29, 2017, the Washington Examiner published my article supporting Devos, “DeVos is a champion for children, not unions.” Due to limited space, I could only respond to the first three reasons. Below are my responses to the two remaining reasons the NEA gave:
The fourth reason the article gave was that DeVos doesn’t want charter schools to be as regulated as public schools. The reason why private and charter schools on average perform so well is that there is local control and flexibility. School control allows teachers to tailor the education to their students, producing good results. And DeVos has said that she supports accountability for all schools.
The final reason was that school choice promotes racial segregation and that DeVos has donated to Christian groups who support traditional marriage. School choice actually promotes racial integration. Because Americans live in quite segregated areas, public schools tend to be very segregated according to a 2016 GAO study. Private schools on the other hand accept children from many different areas and already give scholarships to promote racial inclusion. Finally, groups like Focus on the Family that DeVos has donated to focus on many issues, most particularly the Christian faith. And DeVos has said that she is not going to discriminate against LGBT students.
The real reason that teachers’ unions, however, aren’t supporting DeVos is that they don’t want her to change the status quo of the public education monopoly.
70 percent of Americans support school choice according to a poll by Democrat polling firm Beck Research.
Senators should vote on what the people want, not what union leaders want.