Why DeVos is education secretary

Some of my liberal / progressive friends have expressed displeasure and / or surprise that Betsy DeVos was confirmed as Secretary of Education. In the perhaps overly optimistic hope that there is still a place for civil political discourse in 2017, I’ll explain it.

First off all, there was a time when the US Senate valued consensus and required 60 votes to confirm a cabinet level appointment. But recently the majority Senate leader changed the rules, after changing the rule that such a change would require a two thirds vote. I’m talking about former Democratic majority leader Harry Reid, who pulled this stunt in 2013. Current majority leader Mitch McConnell was against the move: It’s a sad day in the history of the Senate. So if you’re upset the Rs are able to confirm cabinet level positions without any Democratic support, you can thank Harry Reid.

Secondly — yes, I’ve seen the graphs of DeVos’s political contributions. What’s important to understand is that for years, politically the national teacher unions have essentially been wholly owned subsidiary of the Democratic party, donating millions. Middle America likes teachers — that doesn’t mean it likes teacher unions. An August 2016 Rasmussen poll found only 20% of likely voters think unions do a good job for there members and 50% think they have too much political influence. Union membership remains high only because of mandatory membership rules in many states ; when workers are given a choice in right to work states, enrollment drops … since it’s hard to find anything resembling non-biased (left or right) reporting on that, here’s the google news results. I did find this analysis by a human resources website interesting. By shilling for the losing presidential candidate, and interjecting itself in non educational political topics [1] [2], the National Education Association both alienates part of the public and plays a high stakes, “all in” political game; a good strategy if and only if your picks win. They lost: why would anyone expect anything but an anti-teacher union stance from the (current) powers that be??

Thirdly, because Americans went to school, they think they understand schools. (I did until I started working in them.) The idea of choice has powerful appeal: one current US Senator, in a book cowritten with their daughter, wrote: Fully funded vouchers would relieve parents from the terrible choice of leaving their kids in lousy schools or bankrupting themselves to escape those schools, and that was Democratic Elizabeth Warren.

Of course vouchers are good for kids with parents with the skill set to utilize them, but maybe not so good for society at large; like many topics involving humans, where gold standard scientific processes can’t be applied, research and opinions vary. Nonetheless Trump ran on pro-voucher platform and he won.

Finally — don’t blame Mike Pence for his tie breaking vote. For all the reasons I’ve outlined above DeVos was essentially in as soon as Trump nominated here. Only two Rs opposed, Lisa Murkowski, who owed public sector unions for her 2010 victory as a write in, and Susan Collins from blue state Maine who may be considering a run for governor. McConnell can count — it didn’t hurt anything for two R Senators to oppose, so it’s not that big a deal from the Republican view of things.