As part of their last-ditch attempt to stop the confirmation of Betsy DeVos as the nation’s next Education secretary, Senate Democrats held an all-night session extending from Monday evening into Tuesday morning. The plan ultimately failed, as DeVos was confirmed Tuesday afternoon, with Vice President Mike PenceMichael (Mike) Richard PenceBennie Thompson not ruling out subpoenaing Trump Heritage Foundation names new president Fewer than 4 in 10 say US is on right track: poll MORE serving as the tie-breaker. But the stunt reveals just how corrupt the Democratic Party has become on the issue of education, and it’s all thanks to the tremendous dependency Democrats now have on the well-funded, extremely powerful teachers unions.
At their late-night session, the Senate Democrats railed against DeVos for her alleged lack of knowledge of public education and experience, among other things, but the one common theme present throughout the session, and in previous congressional hearings as well, was DeVos’ supposed hatred of “public education.”
Among those senators calling for a rejection of DeVos was Sen. Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.), who suggested DeVos’ knowledge on the issues doesn’t even reach the level of local school board members. “Mrs. DeVos demonstrated a complete lack of experience in, knowledge of and support for public education,” said Hassan. “She was unable to address basic issues that any New Hampshire school board member could discuss fluently.”
The hatred for DeVos doesn’t surprise those of us who have long advocated for school choice. For decades, many Democrats, at both the national and local levels, have accused anyone suggesting, as DeVos has done, that parents should be empowered to send their children to the school of their choice of failing to understand public education or as an enemy of public schools. Of course, nothing could be further from the truth. DeVos and other like-minded school choice proponents don’t want to end public education; they want to fix it.
The very best evidence against those who suggest introducing free choice into public education would be a disaster is looking at the track record of U.S. K–12 education over the past 50 years. If centralized planning and ZIP-code-based school systems devoid of any freedom of choice are the best way forward, why are American schools performing so poorly compared to other Western nations, including many that spend much less on education than the United States does?
According to the results of the 2015 Program International Student Assessment, which CNN called “a benchmark of education systems” and is conducted every three years in 72 countries, the United States’ 15-year-olds ranked 25th. The exam included questions testing students’ reading, math, and science skills.
Among those nations that tested better than U.S. students are Estonia, which ranked 3rd, Taiwan (4th), Macau (6th), Canada (7th), Vietnam (8th), China (10th), the United Kingdom (15th), and Germany (16th).
Proponents of the current education system, especially teachers unions and their allies, say the problem is related to funding. They argue if only taxpayers contributed more to education, the system’s problems would be resolved. This claim, while often repeated, is totally false. According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, which compares data from 34 advanced industrialized nations, the United States has routinely been one of the biggest spenders on education, usually only topped by a few small, wealthy European nations such as Luxembourg and Norway.
DeVos and others have repeatedly argued providing parents with educational choice—such as through an education savings account program that would allow parents to use public funds to send their children to private schools, other public schools, charter schools, for textbooks and testing fees, and for school supplies, among other things—could help to solve the problem, and a number of studies support this claim.
In May 2016, EdChoice published a study surveying 100 empirical studies on the effects of school choice programs, including 18 gold-standard studies. According to the EdChoice authors, as reported by my colleague Timothy Benson, “The results are not difficult to explain. School choice improves academic outcomes for participants and public schools by allowing students to find the schools that best match their needs and by introducing healthy competition that keeps schools mission-focused. It saves money by eliminating administrative bloat and rewarding good stewardship of resources breaks down the barriers of residential segregation, drawing students together from diverse communities.”
With so much evidence showing the failures of the traditional public education model and the benefits of school choice, why are Senate Democrats so quick to condemn DeVos? The answer is simple: Democrats and teachers unions have a longstanding “I’ll scratch your back, you scratch mine” relationship. Teachers unions routinely pour millions of dollars into Democratic Party coffers during campaign season—at the local, state, and national levels—and their members vote loyally for Democratic Party candidates.
In return, Democrats, and some Republicans fight tooth and nail to protect teachers from competition of any kind, locking families into a system that has routinely failed to educate children or in some locations keep them safe.
We’re told over and over again school choice will hurt public schools, that kids will suffer, and that we’ll all regret dismantling the current system by giving parents freedom. But where is the evidence to support that grand claim? There isn’t any, and there never will be.
School choice works, but many Democrats will never admit it, because they desperately need support from those who stand to lose out if people are free to pick educational options: the unions, which have essentially enslaved the Democratic Party into being a ZIP-code-based-education loyalist for the foreseeable future.
Thank God for Mike Pence’s tie-breaking vote, a decision that will hopefully mark the beginning of the end this broken, failing, harmful education status quo.
Justin Haskins is executive editor of The Heartland Institute and editor-in-chief of the New Revere Daily Press.
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