A key Republican voice in the Senate is Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, who heads the Senate education committee and was education secretary under President George H.W. Bush. This was his underwhelming reaction to the Trump proposal: “I think it’s always wise to look for greater efficiency in how our government operates, and I will study the proposal carefully.”
Why Republicans have long wanted to shut the Education Department
Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, of course, praised the merger plan, saying in a statement that Trump had campaigned and won with a promise to “reduce the federal footprint in education.” She also said: “Today’s bold reform proposal takes a big step toward fulfilling that promise. Artificial barriers between education and workforce programs have existed for far too long. We must reform our 20th century federal agencies to meet the challenges of the 21st century.”
Teacher union leaders and Democrats in Congress blasted the idea. Lily Eskelsen García, president of the National Education Association, the country’s largest union, called a proposed merger of Education and Labor “radical” and said in a statement that the Trump administration’s proposals are “at best ill-conceived and poorly timed and at worst are an attempt to distract the American public from the humanitarian crisis [President Trump] created along the U.S.-Mexico border.”
Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, said that “in any normal administration,” it would make sense to combine some “core functions” of the two departments.
“But there is nothing normal about this administration, so we’re extremely skeptical of the motivations here given how hostile Betsy DeVos and President Trump have been to public education, workers and unions,” Weingarten said in a statement, referring to Trump’s education secretary. “It seems like this move is just cover for continuing their agenda to go after public schools, gut civil rights and equity protections, provide support for predatory student loan companies and prey on workers.”
Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), the highest-ranking Democrat on the Senate education committee and who has worked well on some initiatives with Alexander, called the plan “unrealistic, unhelpful and futile.”
“Democrats and Republicans in Congress have rejected President Trump’s proposals to drastically gut investments in education, health care, and workers — and he should expect the same result for this latest attempt to make government work worse for the people it serves,” she said in a statement.
Here’s exactly what the plan says: