Betsy DeVos: enemy of the status quo

The bosses at the nation’s teachers unions are in panic mode over Donald Trump’s nominee for secretary of education, Betsy DeVos.

The same labor heads who have long opposed any meaningful reforms to increase parental choice over education or that tie teacher performance to student achievement are throwing the kitchen sink at her, and it isn’t going to work.

Betsy DeVos, before meeting with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell in December. Tom Williams | Congressional Quarterly via TNS

Betsy DeVos, before meeting with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell in December. Tom Williams | Congressional Quarterly via TNS

In recent weeks, she has been attacked for being a Christian with deeply held religious views. She has been vilified for using her personal financial resources to advocate for children in state capitols and she has been criticized because she never taught in public schools, even though numerous past secretaries of education were not teachers either.

These attacks are all phony attempts to spike her nomination, to stand in the way of widely popular education reforms in favor of the status quo.

Are you a fan of the status quo in education? Do you like the American educational establishment, or do you think it is increasingly failing our children? Most people in both parties agree things need to change.

The real reason the teachers unions are trying to smear DeVos is because she is a strong and forceful advocate for school choice. For the past 28 years, DeVos has fought for students like Denisha Merriweather, a young African-American woman who failed third grade twice before receiving a private school scholarship that turned her life around.

Thanks to the corporate tax credit that funded Denisha’s scholarship, she became the first member of her family to graduate from college and is pursuing an advanced degree.

DeVos’ advocacy has made a difference in the lives of hundreds of thousands of students like Denisha who were left behind by teachers unions and a system that — and this is the critical failure of the system — rewards the adults instead of doing what’s right for the kids.

One of the things that terrifies the educational establishment so much is that DeVos isn’t afraid to stand up to the unions. That is important, because teachers unions are the main obstacle to change. And change we need.

DeVos believes that children should have access to great teachers and schools regardless of their ethnicity, income or ZIP code. As secretary of education, she will promote school choice, which includes federal dollars for charter schools, and funding education savings accounts and corporate tax credits that give parents and students better options when their public schools are failing them.

Predictably, her opponents are resorting to the same tired, recycled attacks that they always do. They say, for example, that DeVos wants to devastate public education. Nothing could be further from the truth. She understands — like all of us who advocate for education reform — the vital role that traditional public schools play in our K-12 system. That is not incompatible with injecting more competition into the system, which will force education bureaucrats to compete, improve and do a better job for our kids.

Senate Democrats who may be tempted to parrot the unions’ anti-choice attacks should be mindful that President Barack Obama and both of his secretaries of education, John King and Arne Duncan, were strongly supportive of expanding school choice. King even criticized arbitrary caps on charter schools such as the Maine law that limits parents to 10 charter options.

During the Obama administration, the percentage of children attending a charter school doubled from 3 percent to 6 percent. Today, nearly 3 million students are attending charter schools and another million are on waiting lists. The growing demand for schools of choice shows clearly that parents want to have a larger voice in how and where their children are educated.

It also illustrates how far out of the mainstream opponents to change are. In reflexively opposing reformers like DeVos who believe in the virtues of competition and school choice, the labor heads are showing why they are the biggest barrier to successful education reform in America.

DeVos is a strong and compassionate advocate for students who has successfully battled the entrenched special interests to give hope to children who are trapped in dangerous and underperforming schools. She refuses to accept the failure and excuses that are rampant in our existing K-12 system.

President-elect Donald Trump has nominated a tough and courageous reformer who will fight every day to prepare the next generation for the jobs of the future.

Matthew Gagnon

About Matthew Gagnon

Matthew Gagnon, of Yarmouth, is the Chief Executive Officer of the Maine Heritage Policy Center, a free market policy think tank based in Portland. Prior to Maine Heritage, he served as a senior strategist for the Republican Governors Association in Washington, D.C. Originally from Hampden, he has been involved with Maine politics for more than a decade.