DeVos: A great pick for education secretary
If the teachers unions are outraged by Donald Trump’s selection of Betsy DeVos as the new secretary of education, our president-elect must have made a good choice. The two major unions are beside themselves that Trump picked school-choice advocate and activist DeVos, who chairs the American Federation for Children, an organization that fights for school choice, with a focus on low-income communities. The National Education Association’s press release says DeVos supports “failed schemes, like vouchers” and “a corporate agenda to privatize, de-professionalize, and impose cookie-cutter solutions to public education.” According to the American Federation of Teachers, the appointment shows that Trump’s administration will focus on “privatizing, defunding, and destroying public education in America.” But the school-choice movement, where Betsy DeVos has been an activist and leader for years, is not about any of this. It is about what the teachers unions hate the most: freedom. It is about an outrageous idea that parents should have the power and freedom to decide where and how to educate their children. Freedom is what I thought defined our country, the secret sauce that made, and makes, America great. It is crazy that in something as fundamental as education we have so little of it. And for those with the least power, the poor, parents are totally locked into failing schools controlled by bureaucrats and unions. If giving parents education choice was a bad idea, why do so many want it? Thirty years ago, school-choice programs didn’t exist. Today, according to the organization EdChoice, around 400,000 children attend private schools in 29 states with help from some type of public funding -- vouchers, tax credits or education savings accounts. According to the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, more than a million children are on waiting lists to be accepted in charter schools. Yes, the charter schools that Hillary Clinton criticized during the presidential campaign to cozy favor with the teachers unions. American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten said that Betsy DeVos “uses her money to game the system and push a special-interest agenda.” This is laughable, coming from a union official. The two teachers unions spent in the 2016 election cycle $33,623,843 on political contributions and $3,077,849 on lobbying to advance their special-interest agenda. Every agenda is, of course, special interest. Betsy DeVos’ special interest is advancing freedom by bringing education opportunities to poor children. The unions’ special interest is keeping a stranglehold on public schools and looking out for their members and their left-wing agenda. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average salary for a high school teacher in 2014 was $56,310, with the average in the highest 10 percent at $88,910. The Center for Union Facts shows that there are 198 employees at the American Federations of Teachers with compensation over $100,000, with president Weingarten standing at $543,150. Regarding the claim that school-choice programs drain funds from public schools, American Enterprise Institute scholar Gerard Robinson, former commissioner for education in Florida and secretary of education for Virginia, reports that inflation-adjusted spending on education since the end of World War II has increased 663 percent, with virtually no change in reading and math scores since 1992. In 2016 the Department of Education will spend $79 billion, up 67 percent from 2000. A headline on the National Education Association website says, “Transgender students thrive in supportive schools.” Can you imagine the NEA worrying about Christian children getting biblical values? Parents should be free to choose a school embracing transgender values or Christian values. It should be up to them, not unions or bureaucrats. Having known Betsy DeVos for years, I am confident that unions will find their fears justified, and that our new secretary of education will provide leadership to significantly improve education in our country by bringing freedom and choice to families. Star Parker is an author and president of CURE, the Center for Urban Renewal and Education. Contact her at www.urbancure.org.