fresh voices from the front lines of change







Betsy DeVos, Donald Trump’s nominee for secretary of education, got awful reviews for her performance during her confirmation hearing. But no one predicted her confirmation was anything less than a sure deal.

Now, suddenly, she’s in big trouble.

The DeVos unraveling started late Wednesday when two Republican Senators who voted DeVos out of committee, Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, said they can’t back DeVos in a full Senate vote. Today, Republicans are scrambling to save her nomination by moving up Senate cloture vote to Friday with a confirmation vote by the full Senate “likely the first vote of next week,” according to a report from Roll Call, to “avoid working on the weekend of the Super Bowl.”

Should the Senate vote result in a 50-50 tie, Roll Call notes, Vice President Mike Pence would cast the deciding vote to confirm her.

There is “no precedent” for this, reports Buzzfeed‘s Molly Hensley-Clancy. “It could spell the first time in history, congressional aides say, that a Vice President is forced to step in and break a tie on any cabinet position.”

In her attempt to explain why DeVos has sparked such a firestorm, Hensley-Clancy unfortunately consults with some of the usual suspects—Beltway sources from think tanks and big-money advocacy groups who tend to clog education journalism with a lot of talking points about the “school choice” and “education reform” ideas that DeVos and her colleagues espouse.

A thoroughly typical response to the unheard-of opposition to DeVos comes from Michael Petrilli, a former Bush administration official who is now the president of the the Fordham Institute, right-leaning education think tank. This dissent “is mostly about Democratic Party politics, and that’s union politics,” Petrilli says. “It’s a reminder that unions are enormously influential and powerful in the Democratic party.”

Um, so why are Republicans wavering?

Fighting Over the Future of American Education

A much better explanation to the opposition to DeVos comes from long-time education journalist and Beltway observer Valerie Strauss who writes on her blog for The Washington Post,

The opposition to DeVos is less about politics and more about her vision for the future of American education …Her characterization of public education as an “industry” is a core tenet of corporate school reformers, who believe public schools should be run like businesses. Public school advocates see America’s public education system as a civic institution—the country’s most important—that can’t be run like a business without ensuring that some children will be winners and others will be losers, just like in business. The fight over DeVos is really about what vision of education will prevail in the United States.

People who live in red state America see a different fight over education policy than what the D.C. crowd is mired in. As Rachel Levy, a public school parent and education doctoral candidate, writes on her popular personal blog,

I live in a very conservative area of Virginia where public schools are very popular. In fact, public schools are very popular in many conservative areas in Virginia…Basically, there is bipartisan support of public schools.

Levy’s observations are confirmed by my report on how the “school choice” issue, so beloved by big-money Republicans, is hitting opposition from red state rural Americans. Rural schools across the country face formidable problems including high dropout rates, low academic performance, and lousy funding. None of these problems will be solved by creating more charter schools and using vouchers to siphon off even more students and resources. In fact, that option will only make things worse.

So the unprecedented opposition to DeVos is more about a struggle over the soul—at least an education soul—of America. And regardless of how the vote turns out, this fight is not about to end.

[Originally published at The Progressive.]

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