Dear Commons Community,
Betsy DeVos was confirmed yesterday as Education Secretary with Vice President Pence casting the deciding vote as the 100 senators split 50-50. Two Republicans joined 48 Democrats. The New York Times has a scathing editorial referring to DeVos as “the perfect cabinet member for a president determined to appoint officials eager to destroy the agencies they run and weigh the fate of policies and programs based on ideological considerations”. Ross Douhat in his column reminds his readers that the bulk of DeVos’s pro school-choice position places her only somewhat to the right of former President Obama’s and Arne Duncan’s pro-charter-school positioning, and close to centrist Democrats like Senator Cory Booker. The Chronicle of Higher Education this morning comments that she has said very little about higher education and that she is essentially a “K-12 person”. So what are some of the possibilities.
First, we need to remember that the bulk of all education spending comes from states and localities and there can be fierce resistance on the part of the policymakers at this level to any major overhaul of the public schools.
Second, her school choice position is directed more at inner city and religious groups than suburban and rural constituents. Most parents in the latter traditionally strong Republican areas are fairly happy with their public schools and are reluctant to see tax dollars flow out of their districts. As a result, the Republican Congress may slow down some of DeVos’ agenda.
Third, DeVos may end up using her position as Education Secretary to criticize and bully public education, much like Bill Bennett did in the Ronald Reagan administration. While there was lots of anti public education vitriol in the 1980s, there wasn’t much in the way of policy.
In sum, it was a sad day yesterday for public education but there may be some small glimmers of hope that all is not lost.