Murkowski picks wrong fight with Trump on Education secretary



U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski surprised and disappointed Alaska conservatives this week when she switched positions on President Donald Trump’s nominee for Secretary of the Department of Education, Betsy DeVos.

Earlier, she had said she supported the president’s right to choose his cabinet. Then, in a reversal, she bent to the wishes of the National Education Association, a purely partisan organization and the nation’s largest teacher’s union.

Murkowski has received $23,500 from the NEA last year, but that’s a drop in the bucket for her. She doesn’t need that money and she’s not going to have to run for office for another five years. So her reversal is puzzling.

The NEA and American Federation of Teachers have opposed DeVos because of her stance on school choice and vouchers, a topic that Alaska conservatives care deeply about. Vouchers give parents the right to move their children to a higher-performng school, and sets up stronger competition between schools, which may lead to better outcomes. It doesn’t apply in all areas of Alaska, but it is an important tool for improving urban schools.

NEA and AFT almost exclusively support Democrats and have blocked innovation in education in favor of sending more power to the union establishment. Higher wages and more staff are the primary goals of teacher unions. Murkowski gets high marks from the NEA.

They obviously got to her. Last week her office issued a statement to Alaskans saying her phone lines had been swamped by nationally based callers trying to sway her vote on DeVos. Alaskans were not able to get through because of the deluge.

In the Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee that she serves on, Murkowski voted this week to bring DeVos to the Senate floor for a vote. But then she said she’d vote with the Democrats in opposing DeVos.

Alaska conservatives were stunned, with many contacting Must Read Alaska to voice their disappointment and outrage.

“Sen. Murkowski bowed to the public teacher’s union in opposing the first real pro school choice secretary of education we have entertained in my lifetime,” said one leading conservative in a note to MRAK. “I understand she has been lobbied hard, probably received 10k letters and taken $23.5k from the unions to block Betsy DeVos. I wrote to her office today to share my frustration.”
DeVos will probably squeak by on a tie vote, which will be then decided by Vice President Mike Pence casting his vote. Meanwhile, Murkowski will have picked an unnecessary fight with President Trump.
“What I want to know is how this helps Alaska,” asked one correspondent of Must Read Alaska. “DeVos is the first chance we’ve had to really have innovation in education in many years. This doesn’t help our state.”
U.S. Sen. Dan Sullivan went the other way on the nomination in a carefully crafted statement: “While I share many of the concerns of Senator Murkowski, after meeting with Mrs. DeVos, she committed to me that she will work with all Alaskans to strengthen education throughout the state, in both public and private schools. She committed to implementing the Every Student Succeeds Act as Congress intended it, without implementing regulations that place the power into the hands of the Department of Education, and supports accountability for all schools as determined by the states.

“Mrs. DeVos also committed to supporting funding for the Alaska Native Equity Program, and agreed to help identify opportunities at the Department of Education for digital learning to be brought to Alaskans. After discussing the unique challenges many Alaskans face in receiving an education, she committed to visiting Alaska and working with us to formulate best practices that work for our most remote schools.

“Most importantly, she is someone who cares deeply about our kids. She committed to working closely with states and local school districts – which are closest to our students – and return the decision-making process back to where it belongs: with local school administrators, teachers, and parents to ensure that our most vulnerable populations receive access to a high quality education, especially in rural Alaska,” Sullivan concluded.

The American Federation for Children came down strongly on the side of DeVos: “Betsy DeVos is a champion for parents and students and is committed to ensuring every child in our country has access to a world class education,” said Kevin P. Chavous, board member of the American Federation for Children. “Her commitment to put the interests of students first, while troubling to those who defend a system that is failing far too many of our children, resonates with the millions of parents across the country who want the very best education for their children. Betsy DeVos will fight for all students and I urge the U.S. Senate to stand with students and parents and confirm her as U.S. Secretary of Education.”

It’s not too late for Murkowski to reflect and amend her decision on whether to pick a meaningless fight with a newly elected president who has made excellent choices for his cabinet, including Ms. DeVos, who deserves a chance to lead.