U.S. Senator recalls Minnesota’s historical contribution to School Choice at Betsy Devos Hearings

School Choice Advocate Betsy DeVos was in the U.S. Senate last week for hearings on her nomination to be the new Secretary of Education. Senator Lamar Alexander, the former Secretary of Education under George H.W. Bush, made the case at the top of the hearing for the fact that school choice, and charter schools in particular, have support across a broad political spectrum and noted further that charter schools were started in Minnesota by a DFL governor by the name of Rudy Perpich. That was back in 1991.

It is fair to ask, what has Minnesota done for students and teachers lately?

Mrs. Devos had to sit through rather petty remarks by Senator Patty Murray that focused on DeVos’ s wealth, women’s health and other topics unrelated to DeVos’ s qualifications for the job. Later, Senator Al Franken lectured DeVos on his own educational theories, and when she did not immediately agree with him, asserted that she was clearly unqualified for the job. DeVos suffered through Franken’s remarks graciously.

Senator Tim Scott, a black U.S. Senator from South Carolina, spoke in favor of DeVoss. The Senator has known the DeVos family for three decades. He recounted how her parents started a company when she was a child, and built it into a successful auto-parts company that employed many people–including Senator Scott as a young salesman. He spoke eloquently about the importance of a quality education for all kids but especially for poor, minority kids. “Betsy cares, she questions, and then she considers. Only then will she act.”

DeVos is the founder of American Federation for Children (AFC). According to Sen. Joe Lieberman, AFC has empowered over 400,000 young students from poor families to get a better education at AFC state programs enacted with bi-partisan support and leadership from DeVos. Pointing to the wide-spread failure of our public education system, Lieberman noted that while some DeVos critics pointed to her lack of experience in the federal bureaucracy as a weakness, he viewed it as a great strength. He also said he has never heard DeVos speak against our public schools.

And yet, what Senator Bernie Sanders wanted to know is how much money the DeVos family had given to Republican candidates, not how many kids the DeVos family had helped get a good education. (He also wandered off into lecturing DeVos on the need to provide free child care…and free college. DeVos handled Sanders beautifully, pointing out that “Nothing is free.”)

In DeVos, we will have an Education Secretary who has spent thirty years in the trenches, working with parents, school boards and state legislatures because she believes in local control.

DeVos was not in D.C. working with the bureaucracy. Why? Because she does not believe in the Department of Education, or that a top-down approach works for kids.  Let’s pray that DeVos will defeat and tame the bureaucracy that is actually designed to prevent her, and K-12 education, from succeeding. Recall that Secretary William Bennett was sent by Ronald Reagan to do good things at Education after he concluded that he could not rid us of the department started under President Jimmy Carter.

Is it too much to ask that DeVos would end the Department of Education, at least as we know it?

Which reminds me: do not forget the teachers unions. In Minnesota alone, Education Minnesota takes $57 million a year from teachers’ paychecks in order to fund a left-wing political machine fiercely committed to the status quo; it wields power and influence that is unrivaled in the state.

Government union leaders are apoplectic over the DeVos nomination because DeVos has been defeating them at the local level for years. (Can we pause, just to enjoy that thought?)

DeVos speaks up for teachers who see themselves as educators and professionals, not trade unionists.

We asked our favorite elementary school teacher, Rebecca Friedrichs, who fought mandatory union dues (Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association) about the DeVos nomination:

Mrs. DeVos said yesterday, “We’re blessed beyond measure to have educators who pour themselves into their students.” I couldn’t agree more. Every child in America deserves to be free to learn from a great teacher every year, and every great teacher deserves to be free to teach, unencumbered by the politics and policies imposed upon them by union domination of our schools.

In the 1980’s, Minnesota was at the forefront of educational choice, the DFL and GOP pushed the envelope together, so that poor children, and all children, whether they were from the iron range, Rochester, North Minneapolis or Redwood Falls, would have choices and access to a quality education. And teachers could fulfill their mission to teach.

Senator Lieberman said “Let’s give her a chance….” Yes, and let’s give educational choice a chance. Let’s stop talking about it and do something really different. Here is our moment.


Join us this week as we celebrate School Choice Week

A COMMUNITY BREAKFAST IN CELEBRATION OF NATIONAL SCHOOL CHOICE WEEK (Click to register)  Location: DeLaSalle High School, One DeLaSalle Drive, Nicollet Island, Minneapolis, Start: January 26, 2017 @ 9am End: January 26, 2017 @ 10:30am Price: Free