Education Secretary Betsy DeVos is now an issue in the battle for U.S. Senate in Texas between Beto O’Rourke, a Democratic congressman, and Ted Cruz, the incumbent Republican.
O’Rourke just launched several new ads, including one that is directed at winning over advocates for teachers and public schools, especially those who oppose the agenda of DeVos, who has made “school choice” her prime focus.
In the ad, O’Rourke accuses Cruz of backing DeVos and her support for vouchers, which use public money for private and religious school education.
But is the ad entirely accurate? Here’s what the ad says:
“At a time when nearly half of the school teachers in Texas are working a second job just to make ends meet, Ted Cruz wants to take our public tax dollars out of their classrooms, turn them into vouchers. He was the deciding vote on putting Betsy DeVos in charge of our children’s public education. I want to pay teachers a living wage. I want to allow them to teach to the child, and not teach to the test. And when they retire, I want it to be a retirement of dignity. Those public educators have been there for us. Now it’s our turn to be there for them.”
Cruz has been a supporter of DeVos, a Michigan billionaire who is a champion of alternatives to traditional public schools. Critics say she is intent on privatizing public education. DeVos denies it but has said that public schools are “a dead end.” A Feb. 7, 2017, news release from Cruz’s office said in part:
The confirmation of Betsy DeVos as Secretary of Education is welcome news for students and parents in Texas and across our great nation. DeVos brings decades of remarkable experience advocating for policies and programs that empower families and remove barriers to academic choice. Most importantly, she will fight to take power away from the bureaucrats in Washington D.C. and return it to where it belongs – to parents and teachers back home in our local school districts.
Her activism in the education sphere over decades in support of charter schools — which are publicly funded but privately operated — and programs that use public funds for non-public-education purposes made her among the most controversial of President Trump’s Cabinet nominations.
DeVos was the first Cabinet member in history to be confirmed by the Senate with a vice president breaking a tie. Vice President Pence cast a vote in favor to break the 50-50 tie over her nomination. Two Republican senators had voted against her: Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Susan Collins of Maine. No Democrat or independent voted in support.
So was Cruz’s vote “the decision vote” in her confirmation, as O’Rourke said in his ad? No more than any other person who voted to confirm her.
O’Rourke and Cruz have differing views on a number of key education issues.
Cruz has consistently called for the elimination of the U.S. Education Department, and he is a big supporter of the voucher and voucher-like programs that DeVos champions. Traditional public school advocates say these program harm school districts and allow public money to be used at schools that discriminate against LGBTQ and other students. Cruz and DeVos say they allow parents to have more choice. He is also a supporter of home schooling, saying at a 2014 conference in Iowa: “We love our children and we take seriously the biblical admonition to raise them up to walk in a godly manner.”
O’Rourke has talked about giving teachers more support and raising their salaries, sending more federal funds to high-poverty schools and reducing the focus on standardized tests while giving teachers more autonomy in the classroom.