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Opinion: Union attack on ed secretary nominee Betsy DeVos partisan and baseless


I shared a strong protest by American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten of the nomination of billionaire Betsy DeVos as U.S. Education Secretary.

Today, I am sharing a protest of that protest.

First, I want to report the congressional hearing on DeVos, scheduled for Wednesday, has been rescheduled to next week. Because of DeVos' vast wealth and complicated financial holdings, the Office of Government Ethics has not finished its vetting process.

I also want to point you to a good story in The New York Times on how DeVos wields her fortune to advance her education beliefs through the political arena.

The story notes:

It is not unusual for the wealthy — who devote nearly 50 percent of their philanthropic dollars to education, according to the group Wealth-X — to spend aggressively in the political realm to impose their preferred reforms. Even by these standards, however, the DeVoses stand out for the amount of money they spend trying to advance their goals through politics rather than philanthropy, such as research into reforms or subsidizing schools.

Ms. DeVos has led two nonprofits that have spent millions of dollars electing governors and legislators sympathetic to school vouchers around the country. Matt Frendewey, a spokesman for one of the groups, said the efforts had frequently been bipartisan, and that the amount of money they had spent has been dwarfed by contributions from teachers’ unions opposed to reform. Yet in Michigan, at least, the family’s political strategy has not been subtle.

After he defied Ms. DeVos on a key charter school vote, Mr. Pumford, the former Republican legislator, survived an effort by the Great Lakes Education Project, a nonprofit the DeVoses bankrolled, to defeat him in his 2002 primary. But shortly after, the House speaker told him the Education Committee chairmanship he coveted would not be forthcoming. “I said, ‘Why?’” Mr. Pumford recalled. “He said: ‘You know why. The DeVoses will walk away from us.’”

With those updates, here is a defense of DeVos from the Center for Education Reform, a Washington, D.C.-based school choice advocacy group.

The attack on Education Secretary nominee Betsy DeVos by the president of the American Federation of Teachers was a "partisan rant by the leader of the first national union to endorse the Democratic nominee in the last election, and they lost," said Jeanne Allen, Founder and CEO of the Center for Education Reform.

AFT President Randi Weingarten accused DeVos, who has played a major role in the expansion of charter schools in her home state of Michigan and in dozens of other states, of being "anti-public-education."

"But charter schools are public schools, they're just not the kinds of public schools that the AFT likes," Allen said. "For the head of an organization that purports to represent teachers by attempting to create fear among them is outrageous and contradictory. She claims that an agenda that promotes school options is anti-public education. The only thing anti-public education is those who oppose educating the public in any way that best suits the needs of its students."

“That’s what the teachers unions have become — a proverbial straw man against anything except the status quo. Their language and rhetoric should be rebuffed by every American teacher who cares about their classroom and their kids,” Allen said.

 


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About the Author

Maureen Downey has written editorials and opinion pieces about local, state and federal education policy since the 1990s.