- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 12, 2017

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

The first round of the battle for education reform begins Jan. 17, when Betsy DeVos is slated to give her Senate testimony to become secretary of the Department of Education.

First, a refresher course.

When President-elect Donald Trump announced Mrs. DeVos, 58, as his selection during Thanksgiving week, he said: “Under her leadership we will reform the U.S. education system and break the bureaucracy that is holding our children back so that we can deliver world-class education and school choice to all families.”

“I am honored,” Mrs. DeVos said, “to accept this responsibility to work with the president-elect on his vision to make American education great again. The status quo in education is not acceptable. Together, we can work to make transformational change that ensures every student in America has the opportunity to fulfill his or her highest potential.”

She had me — and countless other school choice proponents — at “the status quo in education is not acceptable.”

Unions and other opponents of reform are shaking in their boots.

See, Mrs. DeVos is a billionaire, which means she doesn’t have to blast anti-choicers so much as spend her own money as a persuasive voice for choice.

She also is a Christian conservative, which means she can’t be bullied.

And Mrs. DeVos is not merely a Republican — she’s a Republican playmaker, having twice chaired the Michigan Republican Party.

So you can understand why Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, who’s quick to pick a fight once she senses you’re not in the same corner as she and her 1.6 million union members, jumped into the ring when the DeVos confirmation hearing initially was scheduled for this week.

Said Ms. Weingarten at a news briefing Monday at the National Press Club: “She hasn’t taught in a public school. She hasn’t served on a school board. She never attended a public school, nor did she send her kids to one. She’s a lobbyist, but she’s not an educator. One wonders why she was nominated.”

Another heavyweight of the left, Sen. Debbie Stabenow, Michigan Democrat, revealed her hand before the DeVos confirmation hearing had even begun.

“Our conversation reaffirmed my strong concerns about her nomination,” Ms. Stabenow said, The Detroit Free Press reported this week. “Betsy DeVos and her family have a long record of pushing policies that I believe have seriously undermined public education in Michigan and failed our children. Therefore, I cannot support (her).”

Anti-choice, partisan irony of ironies: One of America’s most innovative and promising charter schools, West Michigan Aviation Academy, was started in 2010 by Dick DeVos with encouragement from wife Betsy.

Sometimes, when people stand diametrically opposed to something or someone, like charter schools and their supporters, they can’t stand to have such reminders rubbed in their faces in their home states.

In the meantime, DeVos backers include Republican center-righters Mitt Romney and Jeb Bush, who, as you know, had their own reasons not to wear red baseball caps bearing the Trump motto “Make America Great Again.”

Another Republican, former Michigan Gov. John Engler, penned an encouraging piece in The Hill about why Mrs. DeVos is qualified for the Cabinet position and, as important, how and why public schooling must change: “America doesn’t need more fights around education. We need solutions — proven ways to educate students, helping them become good citizens who succeed in life and the working world. Business leaders are intently focused on promoting creative approaches that will raise the performance of our K-12 students — making them and the entire U.S. economy more competitive for decades to come. The key is supporting what works, from rigorous standards to charter schools to transparency across the system.”

Obvious Michigan and political party biases aside, Mr. Engler’s points of view should nonetheless be given great weight. He is, after all, president of a D.C.-based association Business Roundtable, which represents leading U.S. corporations — businesses that know what type of workforce they need to survive in a free market.

The status quo in public education simply will not do.

To wrap, the first round of the battle to reform public education has yet to begin, though Ms. Weingarten has assured us it will happen, saying “If you set out looking for a fight, you’ll find one. But you probably won’t find a solution.”

Consider, this, however, from a former Michigan state senator, Randy Richardville, who was quoted in The New York Times: “I would never underestimate Betsy DeVos in a knife fight.”

Still suspect Mrs. DeVos is going to take a wrecking ball and demolish the Department of Education headquarters on Capitol Hill? Calm down. Ain’t gonna happen.

Do take note, though, because change is going to come.

Deborah Simmons can be contacted at dsimmons@washingtontimes.com.

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