Is DeVos Leading or Falling in Line?

On her second international trip this year, U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos is in South America participating as a member of the U.S. delegation of the first-ever G-20 meeting of education ministers. After a preliminary visit to Chile, she went to Argentina to participate in meetings with other G-20 education ministers [emphasis added].” So it seems Secretary of Education DeVos enjoys the authority that is the equivalent of a Minister of Education in foreign countries discussing international economic development and cooperation.

When the Carter Administration supported Department of Education Organization Act in 1979 (P.L. 96-88) that created the cabinet position of Secretary of Education, the New York Times editorialized, 

Supporters of the new department dwelt heavily on the need for a “national education policy.” Such a departure from a precious American tradition is precisely what the country does not need — or, in our view, want. Nothing would be more harmful to educational diversity and freedom than even a hint that the new department may engage in the standardizing missions associated with ministries of education in other countries.

It took about 40 years to fully realize just how prophetic the NYT editors had been; but DeVos’s new found authority (the equivalent of a national minister of education) was cinched with the 2015 passage of Senator Lamar Alexander’s (TN-R) Every Student Succeeds Act which for the first time gave the Secretary of Education the authority to reject state plans in their application for federal grants funded by the Act. The authority to extort states into compliance with the federal agenda for education, of course, violates the enumerated powers of the federal government, but Congress rationalized its way out of the “chains of the Constitution” using the “general Welfare of the United States” as justification.

Like the first Secretary of Education, Shirley Hufstedler, DeVos has no professional experience in the field of education. What DeVos does have, is a plan to merge the U.S. Department of Education with the U.S. Department of Labor into a single Cabinet agency, the Department of Education and the Workforce (DEW), which bears an uncanny resemblance to the Jeb Bush education plan rolled out during his 2016 presidential campaign to reduce the Department of Education by 50%.

DeVos’s itinerary includes visits with education leaders and career and technical education programs in Chile and Argentina which is interesting considering the recent changes in administration in those two countries. Chile’s leadership has swung from leftist socialism and an overhaul of public education to conservatism. Among the outgoing president’s most controversial changes was her aggressive push to expand access to free higher education which has strained the national budget since the price of copper fell. Chile’s new president has a free-market agenda and a personal profile much like Trump. Argentina was one of the biggest economic actors in the Americas, until the disastrous administration of the socialist-Peronist government. Argentina’s economic planning has been a complete failure, yet, DeVos believes the U.S. has much to learn from countries that merge labor and education.

The U.S. Department of State notified UNESCO of our country’s decision to withdraw from UNESCO at the end of this year, Yet, Item 2 of the G-2O Education Ministers’ Declaration 2018 Preamble states, “In line with the United Nations 2030 Agenda, we affirm our commitment to ensuring inclusive and equitable quality education and promoting lifelong learning opportunities for all.” It appears that the U.S. Secretary of Education’s participation in the G20 Summit is a not-so-discrete way of circumventing the U.S. Secretary of State and continuing down the road of standardizing and nationalizing American education for the economy begun by Jeb’s father with America 2000 (which by the way, was released and promoted by then-Secretary of Education Lamar Alexander). Not good. The last thing the Trump Administration needs is Secretary of Education that undermines the goal of his administration to Make America Great Again. But the undermining of a populist president by a Bush-Alexander team is nothing new.

When President Reagan worked to keep his campaign promise to dismantle the U.S. Department of Education and restore control of education to parents and local school boards, his vice-president, G. H. W. Bush supported Reagan’s first Secretary of Education, Terrel Bell, in preserving the Department; and it was another Senator from Tennessee, Lamar Alexander’s mentor, Howard Baker, who thwarted Reagan’s efforts. Alexander worked to get Devos confirmed as Secretary of Education (or is that Minister of Education?). Now, as President Trump works to keep his campaign promise to return education to the states, his efforts are thwarted by his own Secretary of Education and Senator Baker’s protégé. Trump would do himself a service by requesting Secretary DeVos’s resignation, and Tennessee would do America a great service by settling Senator Alexander’s quandary about running for re-election in 2020, and clearing the way for President Trump to accomplish what he was elected to do.