Teachers, parents and Dems campaign to defeat DeVos falls just short

WASHINGTON —A massive campaign by teachers, parents, unions, the PTA and Senate Democrats to defeat Michigan millionairess Elizabeth “Betsy” DeVos, Republican President Donald Trump’s nominee as Education Secretary, fell just short on Feb. 7. The GOP-run Senate approved her 51-50, with GOP Vice President Mike Pence breaking a tie vote.

The two big teachers unions, the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) and the National Education Association (NEA), led the charge, and leaders of both put the best interpretation they could on the outcome.

AFT President Randi Weingarten, a New York City high school history and civics teacher, said the anti-DeVos campaign shows defenders of public schools “are not going back in the shadows.”

And NEA President Lily Eskelsen-Garcia predicted that while DeVos may have been confirmed, her agenda – heavy on unaccountable charter schools and taxpayer-paid tuition vouchers for parents of private school kids – will fall by the wayside.

“Betsy DeVos fought to expand for-profit charters and stop any accountability for their performance,” a third union, the School Administrators, said in a tweet. AFSA’s second tweet pointed out that “Michigan is the Wild Wild West of for-profit charters. 80 percent of Michigan’s charter schools are for-profit.”

DeVos, who came by millions as part of the family that controls Amway, a direct-selling scheme, is a big GOP donor and former Michigan Republican chair.

She’s also an outspoken advocate of charters and vouchers, and even refused to pledge during her confirmation hearing that she would not cut federal funding for public schools.  Public schools educate 90 percent of U.S. kids, and 51.6 percent of those students are members of minority groups. Hispanic-American kids are the largest of the minorities.

DeVos’ stands against public schools and GOP hatred of teachers unions played into the confirmation fight. It featured a mass teacher-led rally on Capitol Hill the night before the vote, phone calls jamming the Capitol switchboard urging senators to defeat DeVos, and millions of anti-DeVos tweets. Senate Democrats staged an all-night filibuster against her.

That last development could be important: Minority Leader Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., signaled the Dems will, as a bloc, oppose most if not all of Trump’s other Cabinet nominees.

That includes Labor Secretary nominee Andrew Puzder, a fast-food magnate and foe of increasing the minimum wage and expanding eligibility for overtime pay. Puzder, whose restaurants are rife with wage theft violations, saw his confirmation hearing postponed, for the fourth time. It had been scheduled for Feb. 7. It was later rescheduled for Feb. 16, as new questions arose about his financial dealings, his restaurants, and his personal employees.

But without three GOP defections, Senate Democrats can’t defeat Trump cabinet choices. Two Republicans, Alaska’s Lisa Murkowski and Maine’s Susan Collins, voted against DeVos, as did all 46 Democrats and both independents. The other 50 Republicans voted for her. That forced Pence to break the tie. Hours later, he swore her in to the secretary’s job.

“DeVos’ confirmation battle has a major silver lining: The public in public education has never been more visible or more vocal, and it is not going back in the shadows,” Weingarten said. “This same public — from rural towns to urban centers, from liberals to conservatives — will now serve as a check and balance, and they will be fierce fighters on behalf of children. I am honored to be a soldier in that movement for children.

“DeVos shows an antipathy for public schools, a full-throttled embrace of private, for-profit alternatives and a lack of basic understanding of what children need to succeed in school,” Weingarten added.

Weingarten and NEA’s Eskelsen-Garcia differed on the future of DeVos’  schemes. Weingarten said DeVos would keep on that path. Eskelsen-Garcia said DeVos would lose.

“It’s more likely we’ll now hear the same trashing of public schools that the disrupters, the privatizers and the austerity hawks have used for the last two decades. That makes this a sad day for children,” Weingarten said.

“In my years as a public education advocate, I have never witnessed this level of public outcry,” said Eskelsen-García. “The nomination has touched a raw nerve not only with public education advocates like me but with the general public as well.”

“Americans across the nation drove a bipartisan repudiation of the Trump-DeVos agenda for students and public education. This marks only the beginning of the resistance.

“America is speaking out. The level of energy is palpable. We are going to watch what Betsy DeVos does. And we are going to hold her accountable for the actions and decisions she makes on behalf of the more than 50 million students in our nation’s public schools,” Eskelsen-Garcia concluded.

Source: PAI