Betsy DeVos is the classic Trump cabinet pick. Tapped to be secretary of education, DeVos has zero government experience, no personal or professional involvement with the public school system, and wealth beyond measure. Liberals hate her for liberal reasons, and conservatives love her for conservative reasons. (Don’t get your undies in a wad if I’ve overstated your emotion. I like hyperbole. Get used to it.)
Liberals and conservatives see the same problems, but we point to different causes and propose different solutions. We all agree that children who are raised without fathers face more challenges in life. Liberals point to the legacy of slavery, institutional racism, and wealth disparity as the predominant explanations. Conservatives blame “if it feels good, do it” and the cult of victimology. To boil it down, liberals blame the oppressor and accuse conservatives of blaming the victim. Conservatives blame individual choices and accuse liberals of excusing bad behavior.
The solutions we propose are likewise polar opposites. Liberals favor government funded solutions. Conservatives favor competitive market solutions. Conservatives love Betsy DeVos because she champions vouchers and school choice with a backdrop of increasingly varied private enterprise. Liberals hate Betsy DeVos because she threatens to deplete what’s left of public school funding by making it possible for parents to remove their kids from failing schools.
Betsy DeVos grew up wealthy and married wealthier. It says nothing about her except that she’s wealthy. She may be a snob or she may be down to earth. She may be a lot of things because she’s wealthy, some good some bad. Money is the detail not the punchline.
Positive or negative is in the eye of the beholder.
Critics say, “[M]ost communities lack the number of high quality private schools to meet any real demand created by vouchers.” Well, that’s what vouchers are for. When parents have a say in where they send their kids to school, vouchers will flow toward the best schools. If demand outstrips supply, new supply will arise. More competition, more quality.
Critics say, “We must focus on making our public schools successful. Therefore, choosing an education secretary that is so pro-voucher sends a negative message to the hard working educators in our public schools.” If public schools consisted only of hard working educators, I would agree. But they also consist of teachers’ unions; political agendas; transgender bathrooms; more money spent per student than all but four other countries in the world; and a tenure system antithetical to merit.
If we could change only one thing to improve public schools, let’s look at teachers’ unions. If they’re so great, why does anyone need to be compelled to join them? In twenty-six states and counting, labor union participation is optional. West Virginia was the latest state to become right-to-work in February.
Teachers’ unions are opposed to sharing any of Title 1’s $15 billion set aside for low-income schools because “letting Title 1 money follow students to higher-income schools outside their neighborhoods…would take money away from public schools.” That’s right. If parents from low-income neighborhoods can choose to send their children to better schools, they will. Why should they be trapped in failing schools simply because they live in low-income neighborhoods? Liberals see the problem as money and want to solve the problem with money. Conservatives see the problem as personal responsibility and want to solve the problem with parental choice.
(As an aside, if money were the problem, and we’ve spent nearly a trillion dollars in our 50-year War on Poverty, why has the number of Americans living in poverty decreased by only 4 percent?)
Teachers’ unions point to the failure of charter schools in Detroit as proof that charter schools don’t work. Maybe charter schools don’t work in Detroit because it’s Detroit. Detroit is not famous for things that work.
To paint in very broad brush strokes, liberals think they know what’s best for American kids and education. Because liberals are so convinced they’re right, they feel obligated to make conservatives do the “right” thing. Unless liberals take away our choices, we might do the “wrong” thing like decide for ourselves the values we want our children to be taught.
Betsy DeVos represents choice and parent-directed values: vouchers, school curricula, labor unions, bathrooms for transgender students, global citizens, use of tax dollars, etc. If we have to force people to do something, maybe it’s not the right thing to do. If our solutions aren’t working, maybe we need to try something new. Betsy DeVos is as good a choice as any.