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Betsy DeVos spent her four years as President Trump’s secretary of education buried under a mountain of criticism. A warrior for school choice, and therefore a lightning rod for attacks from the education establishment, what she endured at the hands of her detractors could fill an entire book.
This week, she published her rebuttal. DeVos’ new book “Hostages No More: The Fight for Education Freedom and the Future of the American Child,” is not only a peak behind the curtain of the Trump administration, but a full-throated repudiation of the people and policies that hounded her while she was part of it.
DeVos makes no bones about her agenda. “I made a long journey — thirty-plus years of working in states to promote school choice, advise governors, and drive reforms — to come to Washington to champion a different approach: freedom,” she writes.
For DeVos, education freedom means liberation of our public schools from the union-controlled, zip-code determined, government-run monopoly. “It means empowering families to choose how and where the education dollars already designated for their children are spent.”
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The opposition to her fight for educational freedom came fast and furious.
“Elizabeth Warren was one of the coldest people I have ever met,” DeVos writes of the Democratic senator from Massachusetts. Shortly after her nomination was announced, Warren sent her a “rambling, sixteen-page letter” charging that she was wholly unqualified for the job. After her confirmation hearing, Warren refused to shake her hand.
But DeVos delights in exposing Warren’s hypocrisy. “[A] decade earlier, in a book written with her daughter, Warren had agreed with me. She correctly diagnosed that the problem in American education was that parents with money already had school choice — by moving to a good school district. Meanwhile, middle- and lower-class families were stuck in bad schools.” DeVos then quotes Warren’s book: “’Any policy that loosens the ironclad relationship between location-location-location and school-school-school would eliminate the need for parents to pay an inflated price for a home. … A well-designed voucher program would fit the bill neatly.’”
“In a complete about-face,” DeVos writes, “when she needed to curry favor with the school union bosses, Warren forgot about the middle- and lower-class families stuck in failing schools. Warren had sent her child to a private school. She had exercised her choice. But she fought my nomination because I believed all parents should have that same choice.”
Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J, a former mayor of Newark, was another, more personal disappointment for DeVos.
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Before selling out to the unions and being against school choice, Booker was a famously pro-school choice mayor of Newark before he was elected to the Senate in 2012. “Cory and I [served] together on pro-school-choice organization boards through the 2000s,” DeVos recounts. They collaborated and supported each other on numerous reform efforts.
“Cory’s was a valuable voice for the school choice movement. He spoke on behalf of the Americans who were being hurt by the current system. He was aggressive and direct about all the failed promises poor families had been given,” DeVos wrote.
But when it came time to vote on DeVos for Trump’s cabinet, Booker fell in lock step with his party to vote “no.”
“I’ve been involved with politics a long time. I know politician can be…let’s say, morally malleable,” DeVos said. “But Cory’s betrayal hit deep. He not only turned his back on me, he turned his back on millions of children counting on someone like him to do what’s right.”
DeVos details Booker’s union-friendly u-turn: “He never said my name. He just said ‘the nominee’ had no commitment to defend the rights of minority children, gay children, and children with disabilities — literally all the same virtues he had ascribed to the school choice movement [eight months earlier]. Even for Washington, it was a breathtaking reversal.”
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Looming over these and other “morally malleable” politicians are the almighty teacher unions, which DeVos portrays as one of, if not the single most powerful special interest group in Democratic politics, maybe even America. “For me [Cory’s ‘no’ vote] was the personification of what happens when a party is controlled by a special interest group… I was disappointed and hurt by Cory’s actions, but I wasn’t surprised. He was running for the nomination of the Democratic Party for 2020. He couldn’t betray the well-funded, well-organized interest groups that held his political future in the palm of their hands—and held our children as hostages to their self-interested cause.”
The unions hold some Republicans in the palm of their hands too.
DeVos tells the story of Sen. Lisa Murkowski, the Republican senator from Alaska who back in 2010 faced a Tea Party challenger in her re-election bid. To stave him off, the teacher unions threw their weight behind Murkowski. The Tea Party candidate won the primary, but Murkowski prevailed as a write-in candidate in the general election with help from the unions. They supported her again in 2016 and in 2017, Murkowski was one of two Republicans to oppose DeVos’s nomination.
After her confirmation, DeVos traveled to Alaska at the invitation of Murkowski, only to be stood up.
“I had hoped that a trip to Alaska could create some goodwill with Senator Murkowski. But from the outset, her staff sought to control my itinerary, pushing traditional public schools and union offices,” she recalls. “In the end, despite her invitation, Senator Murkowski didn’t seem to really want me in Alaska. She didn’t even show up for a visit she had arranged for both of us at a school on Eielson Air Force Base, in Fairbanks. Her staff said she was still in Anchorage because her flight had been delayed by ash from volcanic activity that limited visibility around Denali. Sorry, they said, she wouldn’t be able to join me. But a few hours later, Murkowski was spotted at the airport in Fairbanks getting on a place to leave the state. She had been in town the whole time.”
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DeVos spends many pages of her book describing what she believes the union-controlled politicians are enabling and supporting: plummeting test scores, bloated budgets, deadweight bureaucrats, and toxic curriculums. In the last two years, while millions of children suffered through prolonged and needless school shutdowns, DeVos believes parents awakened to this grim reality.
For those who are still asleep, “Hostages No More” is meant to be the wake-up call.