Posts Tagged ‘American Federation for Children’

Who’s Afraid of Betsy DeVos?

January 17, 2017

Trump’s Education nominee is the top Democratic target.

Democrats are searching for a cabinet nominee to defeat, and it’s telling that progressive enemy number one is Betsy DeVos. Donald Trump’s choice to run the Education Department has committed the unpardonable sin of devoting much of her fortune to helping poor kids escape failing public schools.

Progressives and their media allies have spent the last week roughing up Mrs. DeVos in preparation for her Senate confirmation hearing on Tuesday, which will feature the charms of Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders. Liberals claim that Mrs. DeVos, wife of former Amway president Dick DeVos, is unqualified to lead the Education Department because she’s never been a teacher.

Yet the same crowd howls that bankers shouldn’t be regulating banks. Which is it? Managing a bureaucracy isn’t like running a classroom, though both require a steely resolve. Most Education secretaries have been former teachers or school superintendents—not that student test scores are better for it.

Perhaps Mrs. DeVos’s most important qualification is that she has the courage of her convictions. Progressives are willing to brook billionaires who use their wealth to expand government or augment their political influence. Hyatt heiress Penny Pritzker, whose family is a major Democratic patron, served as President Obama’s Commerce secretary. But a conservative who’s dedicated her private fortune to liberating poor kids trapped in lousy public schools? The horror!

The DeVoses have donated tens of millions of dollars to charity including a children’s hospital in Michigan and an international art competition in Grand Rapids. They’ve also given to Christian organizations, which the left cites as evidence of concealed bigotry. Yet education has been their main philanthropic cause.

During the 1990s, they patronized a private-school scholarship fund for low-income families and championed Michigan’s first charter school law. In 2000 they helped bankroll a voucher initiative, which was defeated by a union blitz. The DeVoses then turned to expanding charters, which have become Exhibit A in the progressive campaign against her. Unions claim Michigan charters are inferior to the state’s public schools and that 80% are run for profit.

These claims are spurious. Detroit charters are low performing—only 19% of students are proficient in English—but they’re better than the alternative. Charter students in Detroit on average score 60% more proficient on state tests than kids attending the city’s traditional public schools. Eighteen of the top 25 schools in Detroit are charters while 23 of the bottom 25 are traditional schools.

Two studies from Stanford’s Center for Research on Education Outcomes (2013, 2015) found that students attending Michigan charters gained on average an additional two months of learning every year over their traditional school counterparts. Charter school students in Detroit gained three months.

Eighty-percent of Michigan charters utilize a private education service provider. Yet only about half are operated by a for-profit entity, and almost all of these are mom-and-pop businesses run by Michigan residents. While unions have fought to keep failing public schools open, Mrs. DeVos backed a 2009 law allowing the state to close public schools—charters included—that scored in the bottom 5% of the state for three consecutive years. Only seven of the 54 schools with two strikes in the past two years were charters.

The real reason unions fear Mrs. DeVos is that she’s a rare reformer who has defeated them politically. Prior to being tapped by Mr. Trump, she chaired the American Federation for Children (AFC), which has helped elect hundreds of legislators across the country who support private school choice. Last year AFC and its affiliate groups spent $5 million on elections compared to the teachers unions’ $138 million. Yet 108 of the 121 candidates AFC supported won their races.

AFC has built a broad coalition that includes black and Latino Democrats, undercutting the union conceit that vouchers are a GOP plot to destroy public schools. In 2000 four states had private-school choice programs with 29,000 kids. Today, 25 states have vouchers, tax-credit scholarships or education-savings accounts benefitting more than 400,000 students.

Even if they can’t defeat Mrs. DeVos’s nomination, unions hope to leave her so politically weakened that she won’t be able to implement her agenda. The character assassinations—e.g., that she supports anti-gay groups—are primarily intended to turn the bureaucracy and public against her.

Yet their nasty campaign reeks of political desperation. You know progressives have lost their moral bearings when they save their most ferocious assault for a woman who wants to provide poor children with the education they need to succeed in America.

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Betsy DeVos’s School Mission

November 25, 2016

One promise of the Trump Presidency is that it will try to break up Washington’s political cartels. Among the worst is the Education Department, and Betsy DeVos is well positioned to take it on as Mr. Trump’s nominee to run that wholly owned subsidiary of the teachers unions and cultural left.

Mrs. DeVos is a philanthropist who has devoted years and much of her fortune to promoting school reform, especially charter schools and vouchers. She chairs the American Federation for Children (AFC), which has fought in the trenches across the country for more school choice to liberate kids from failing schools. By trenches we mean hand-to-hand political combat in state legislative races against the teachers unions.

AFC was especially successful this year, as 108 of the 121 candidates it supported won their elections. AFC candidates in Florida won 20 of 21 targeted races. The group’s biggest coup was ousting a scourge of school choice in a Miami-Dade Senate district where Democrats are a majority. The teachers union dumped $1 million into the race but still lost.

The union hoped to demonstrate diminishing public support for Florida’s tax-credit scholarships—the largest private-school choice program in the country—which is under review by the state Supreme Court. AFC ran ads with parents of scholarship recipients demanding that opponents be held accountable.

Choice advocates scored other big victories this month in what is an underreported election story. Indiana Republican Jennifer McCormick dislodged State Education Superintendent Glenda Ritz, who attacked charters and vouchers during her four-year term. Republican Mark Johnson also defenestrated a union-backed superintendent in North Carolina.

Teachers unions fanned public fury over North Carolina’s transgender bathroom law to exact retribution against GOP Governor Pat McCrory, who repealed teacher tenure, expanded charters and established vouchers. Even if Mr. McCrory loses his tight race for re-election, the legislature has locked in funding for vouchers that will escalate over 12 years.

New York Republicans maintained their state Senate majority, which is a crucial bulwark against the union-controlled Assembly. At least nine of the 10 Republican candidates supported by the pro-charter group StudentsFirstNY prevailed.

Charter groups even racked up victories in California, where many legislative races featured two Democrats due to the state’s nonpartisan primary. In an East Bay Assembly seat, Democrat Tim Grayson beat Mae Torlakson, who is married to the state’s union-friendly superintendent of public instruction. Charter groups also helped elect Democrat Anna Caballero and former Assemblyman Raul Bocanegra to reclaim the seat he lost two years ago to a union frontwoman. California Teachers Association president Eric Heinsfrets that the freshman legislators could have a long-term impact.

One of Mrs. DeVos’s tasks will be leveraging her bully pulpit and federal dollars to extend this progress to the states, where most education money is spent. She will be the most pro-choice secretary since Bill Bennett in the Reagan years, and she is a particular improvement over George W. Bush’s secretary Margaret Spellings. The National Education Association union blew a gasket at Mrs. DeVos’s appointment Wednesday, which qualifies as high praise.

Mrs. DeVos will have to study up quickly on higher education, where the ObamaAdministration has done so much harm. This means revisiting rules on for-profit colleges and especially the destructive “guidance” on enforcing Title IX that has forced schools to jettison due process for accused students and faculty.

The union and progressive backlash will be ferocious, so it’s good that Mr. Trump has picked a nominee in Mrs. DeVos who knows how to fight and to make the moral case for reform.