Bill McCollum is the chairman of the Republican State Leadership Committee. He is a former attorney general of Florida and former member of the U.S. House of Representatives.
By Bill McCollum
U.S. Senate Democrats put on quite a spectacle in attacking and attempting to embarrass Betsy DeVos, President Trump’s nominee to be our next secretary of education, in a confirmation hearing earlier this month.
Reading off the talking points passed along by the bosses of the teachers’ unions, liberal senators like Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) were clearly more interested in scoring cheap points in the national media than having a substantive dialogue on DeVos’s vision for education reform and her qualifications for the job.
She showed her mettle in fending off their attacks. After the hearing, she also showed her graciousness, extending a hand of fellowship to Senator Warren, only to be rudely rejected by the junior senator from Massachusetts.
The partisan performance in the U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) felt like the last desperate gasp of a liberal establishment that has ignored the interests of parents and children for too long. The unions and their political allies in Congress know that the potential for game-changing conservative education reform has never been higher. As a result, they are in full panic mode.
Republicans currently hold the White House, Congress, 33 governorships, 31 lieutenant governorships, 31 secretaries of state and 69 of the 99 state legislative bodies in America. Conservatives in the states stand ready to reform our schools and are waiting for Washington to get out of the way.
More than 140 state-level elected Republicans sent a letter to the Senators serving on the HELP Committee urging that Betsy DeVos be confirmed. These reform-minded conservatives know that with Betsy DeVos as education secretary, Republicans will finally be able to advance a reform agenda that shifts power and money from Washington back to the states and local school districts. More important, conservatives will have the opportunity to fully empower parents with more control over their children’s education, through expanded charter schools and a variety of private school choice programs such as vouchers, corporate tax credits for scholarships and education savings accounts.
The teachers’ unions understand the stakes as well. They know that Betsy DeVos will shake up the failed status quo that they spend millions of dollars to defend. She is a proven and successful reformer who has fought and defeated the unions to expand school choice in state capitols across the country, standing with Republican and open-minded Democratic state lawmakers who are willing to put the interests of parents and students first. Betsy DeVos is courageous. She is tough. She is committed to children, and she comes to Washington owing no debt to any special interest group.
In opposing her because of her commitment to school choice, the Democrats run the risk of alienating their most loyal base of support. African American and Hispanic students are the biggest victims of America’s failing public schools. Some of America’s worst schools are union-dominated public schools in big cities. Minority parents of low-income children are clamoring for better alternatives for their children. It is a major reason that the percentage of children attending charter schools more than doubled during the Obama presidency, despite his administration’s half-hearted support for school choice.
African American and Hispanic children deserve the same right to access great schools as the children of America’s wealthy and elite. By denying them better opportunities, Democrats have relegated an entire generation of minority children to second-class status. Their opposition to school choice for poor, at-risk children is immoral. There’s simply no way to soft-pedal it.
Betsy DeVos has the passion and courage of her convictions to fight for equal opportunity in education. In doing so, she and the new Republican governing majority in America can brighten the futures of the next generation and broaden the appeal of the party into minority communities. The Democrats had three and half hours during her confirmation hearing to interrupt her and attack her with loaded questions. After the Senate Republicans do the right thing and confirm DeVos, she and President Trump will have four years to break the teachers’ union monopoly over K-12 education and give parents a larger voice in how and where their children are educated.