DeVos, Grizzly Bears and Public Policy: Can Parents and Teachers Create a “#PublicSchoolProud” Movement?

Secretary of Education nominee Betsy DeVos tussled with the committee Democrats for three hours last night, and, the answers to the committee questions ranged from vague, to inaccurate to bizarre.

The fivethirtyeight blog gives a good summary of the major issues at the hearing and Aaron Pallas, a little “tongue in cheek,” recounts what he heard at the hearing.

DeVos stumbled through the three plus hours, glowing as the Republican members of the committee reaped praise and squirmed uncomfortably as the Democrats asked pointed questions. Her handlers trained her, although her performance left a lot to be desired. She refused to commit to upholding the law, waffled on Title IX and the role of the office of civil rights, was vague about supporting transparency for all schools, public and charter, sort of favored accountability in all schools. She supported guns in schools (I believe she is anti-grizzly bear in schools); she has no idea on the debate over proficiency versus growth and steadfastly refused to answer “yes” or “no.” to question after question. She was more than willing to “meet with and discuss policy issues” in her role as secretary, not willing to commit to anything specific. The handlers undoubtedly advised her to commit to nothing, be as vague as possible, charming, and try to eat up as much of the five minutes allotted to each questioner as possible.

Kudos to the Democrats on the committee, they were persistent, fair and asked the right questions.

Barring some catastrophic event, the Republican President’s Republican Senate will confirm all of the nominees. The rules of the Senate require a majority vote; the Democrats needs three Republicans to vote “no” and that is extremely unlikely.

If you watched the circus you may have been struck by the civility of the members of the committee, especially the relationship between chair Lamar Alexander and ranking member Patty Murray. The rules of the Senate require 60 votes to bring a bill to the floor for a vote, called the cloture rule. Presidential nominations only require a majority and treaties, pursuant to Article II, Section 2 of the Constitution, requires a 2/3 vote.

The Majority Leader of the Senate sets the calendar, hence the refusal to schedule a confirmation vote for the Obama Supreme Court nominee.

To pass any in the Senate the Republicans require Democratic votes, which means all bills are to an extent bipartisan. Obama’s bills never saw the light of day in the House, the majority in the House totally controls the flow of legislation. If there are conflicts in the House they are within the Republican Party. The Hastert-Boehner Rules deal with whether the Republican Speaker can bring a vote to the floor that requires Democratic votes to pass. Currently the Freedom Caucus in the House, the Tea Party, controls enough votes to stop a bill from getting to the floor, unless the Speaker seeks Democratic votes, very unlikely considering the tenuous nature of the Paul Ryan leadership.

If the cabinet nominees are going to be confirmed why is there so much pressure? Why the 100% plus, plus effort to expose the inadequacies of the nominees?

Simply, we’re only a year and half away from the 2018 election cycle. If the nominees are disasters, the Democrats will pin the blame on the Republican, especially the Republican senators up for re-election in 2018. On the other hand a number of Democrats http://www.politico.com/story/2016/11/senate-democrats-2018-midterms-231516 up for re-election come from pro-Trump states. The 2018 election cycle is in full swing.

Education was barely mentioned in the presidential election, I don’t think a single question was asked in the three presidential debates. Nationally public opinion polls on schools is mixed and hard to decipher.

In the current fight for the hearts and minds of voters we need heroes and villains, and, to be honest villains reap more votes than heroes; many voters voted against Hillary not for Trump.

“If it bleeds it leads” is the motto of much of the media, “eyes on the screen,” or “clicks” are generated by disasters, sex, violence and scandal. Media sites sell ads dependent on viewer/readership, as a friend told me we get the news we deserve/desire.

If Betsy DeVos is a disaster, if she “lives down” to expectations the Democrats can use her as the poster child. An arrogant billionaire, the ultimate elitist, using her billions to promote schools that enrich her friends, bring religion into the classroom, a closet bigot, the paradigm of what we do not want in our schools.

The Democrats have to motivate voters, and parents and teachers are prime voters. Arne Duncan was charming, an excellent public speaker,  dedicated to the neediest, and although his policies were anathema his close allegiance to the President gave him a Teflon shield.

Randi Weingarten at the AFT and Diane Ravitch at the Network for Public Education have been relentless and the opposition to DeVos is enormous, probably hundreds of thousands of phone calls and petitions and email to senators opposing her confirmation. Editorials and op ed columns and blogs read by countless voters opposing DeVos; this is what creating a movement of all about.

The New York City teacher union, the UFT is beginning a major initiative to involve teachers and parents at the school level, the Public School Proud campaign intends to create a pro-public school movement, beginning in New York City, spreading across New York State and the nation.

Over the months ahead as DeVos attempts to privatize public schools we must become the Communards, the defenders of public education, our weapons: words and actions.

Give a listen to Leonard Cohen: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DU-RuR-qO4Y,

or, Vince Staples: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=62ST_xsaZUI

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