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December 1, 2016

The Top School Choice

Trump’s choice of Betsy DeVos for Education is particularly encouraging.

While most leftists have spent the last 23 days bemoaning the election results and pushing for recounts for no reason other than they lost, President-Elect Donald Trump has been building a cabinet that has some refreshingly solid picks. His list includes Sen. Jeff Sessions for attorney general, Sen. Tom Price for HHS secretary, former Labor Secretary Elaine Chao to head Transportation, Gov. Nikki Haley as UN ambassador, Rep. Mike Pompeo as CIA director, banker Steve Mnunchin for Treasury, and financier Wilbur Ross for Secretary of Commerce. Some more prominent posts are yet to be filled, but the rumor mill includes some intriguing names.

As National Review’s Jim Geraghty writes, “We may quibble with a few here and there, but overall it’s a really good group … [and] a pretty darn conservative cabinet.” Indeed, for anyone concerned Trump’s cabinet may include more Fruity Pebbles than brain food, his picks thus far should help allay those fears.

And while we’ve noted before that it’s difficult to select our least favorite federal agency (there are so many), Trump’s choice of Betsy DeVos to lead a consistent contender — the Department of Education — is particularly encouraging. A longtime school choice advocate and chair of the American Federation for Children, a pro-school choice organization, DeVos is a firm believer in empowering parents — especially those from low-income families — to choose the best educational options for their children. In her state of Michigan, DeVos helped pass the state’s first charter-school bill. Who better to lead an agency whose stated mission is “to promote student achievement and preparation for global competitiveness by fostering educational excellence and ensuring equal access”?

In DeVos, children will finally have an advocate who cares more for their educational opportunity than for carefully preserving a government behemoth that condemns too many students to mediocrity and even complete academic failure.

Unfortunately, some would rather see the behemoth saved and children sacrificed. No sooner had Trump named DeVos than the usual suspects in the battle against educational opportunity — the teachers unions — emerged in full force. National Education Association (NEA) president Lily Eskelsen Garcia claimed DeVos has “undermine[d] public education,” “lobbied for failed schemes, like vouchers,” and “consistently pushed a corporate agenda to privatize, de-professionalize and impose cookie-cutter solutions to public education.”

And American Federation of Teachers (AFT) president Randi Weingarten tweeted, “Trump has chosen the most ideological, anti-public education nominee since the creation of the Dept of Education,” adding Trump’s choice makes “maks [sic] it clear his admin will focus on privatizing, defunding and destroying public edu [sic].”

Of course, as Wall Street Journal editorial writer Jason Riley notes, “Since what’s good for the unions is often bad for the schools, and vice versa, Ms. Weingarten’s apoplexy is reason to cheer.”

Indeed, while critics claim Michigan’s charter schools are examples of what doesn’t work, National Review Senior Editor Ramesh Ponnuru blasts craters in this argument, noting the purported “disaster” of Michigan’s charters led to “more learning in a year” for charter students than for traditional public school students.

But that matters little to the unions who care more for maintaining their own political power than for educating children. As we’ve noted before, charter school teachers aren’t unionized; ergo, they don’t pay union dues. Traditional public school teachers, on the other hand, are often forced to pay the union as a condition of employment. Cha-ching. And as Star Parker points out, in the 2016 election cycle, the NEA and AFT spent more than $33.6 million in political contributions and more than $3 million on lobbying. Do you think they were lobbying for educational opportunity for kids? No, they were lobbying for things like higher taxpayer-funded pensions for teachers. That and they were donating to Democrats.

Riley writes that while DeVos has stated she hopes to “tear down the mindset that assigns students to a school based solely on the zip code of their family’s home,” Weingarten “has fought to keep persistently failing schools open because they still provide jobs for her dues-paying members.”

Bottom line: Those who categorically reject the belief that parents should be able to choose the best educational environment for their child will never approve someone like DeVos, a fierce advocate for children.

Thankfully for the thousands of students hoping for a shot at a better education, DeVos doesn’t need their approval.

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