Teachers unions lose it over State of the Union address

By Larry Sand
February 11, 2020

Union leaders are enraged at Trump and DeVos for the audacity of promoting parental choice.

Last week, the President’s State of the Union address was a typically upbeat affair. President Trump outlined his many successes and Congressional Republicans were jubilant, while Democrats scowled.

One of the features of Trump’s talk was a revival of Texas Senator Ted Cruz’s school choice plan, the Education Freedom Scholarships and Opportunities Act. This legislation would provide tax credits to individuals and businesses that make contributions to scholarship funds that could be used to defray tuition costs at private schools, for career and technical education, etc. Trump added that no parent should be forced to send their kid to a failing government school.

The ensuing unionista delirium was a sight to behold. Lily Eskelsen García, president of the National Education Association fumed, “Tonight, Donald Trump once again put the agenda of Betsy DeVos, the least qualified Secretary of Education in U.S. history, front and center in his State of the Union by renewing his push to divert scarce funding from the public schools that 90 percent of students attend into private school voucher programs.” (Scarce funding?! We are the second highest spending nation in the world, laying out over $700 billion a year.)

Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, growled, “Donald Trump and Betsy DeVos have made no secret of their antipathy for public education. Rather than strengthen the cornerstone of our democracy and the chief enabler of pluralism and opportunity, they choose to defund and destabilize it. No amount of rebranding vouchers and privatization as ‘choice’ and ‘freedom’ changes that.” (No antipathy, Randi. Trump only singled out failing government schools, not all government schools.)

Subsequent outbursts by the unions singled out DeVos for ridicule. In “Voucher Scheme Rears Ugly Head in State of the Union Address” California Teachers Association writer Julian Peeples chastised the Ed Secretary  and maintains that her real agenda is to “siphon precious public resources to private businesses.” CTA president E. Toby Boyd got in a plug for the so-called Schools and Initiatives First initiative which, if successful in November, would dismantle part of California’s Prop. 13 and raise taxes on businesses. Boyd claims that it is important because of “years of chronic underfunding.” (Chronic Underfunding?! Could the union boss be unaware that the California Department of Education projects total state expenditures for 2019–20 from all sources to be a record $214.8 billion?)

Additionally, CTA has joined forces with NEA in asking its teachers to “Take the Pledge to Fire Betsy DeVos.”

The United Teachers of Los Angeles wants you to know that Trump, Devos, et al. want to “buy our democracy.” The socialist-led union has erected a bulletin board overlooking a busy downtown LA freeway just make sure you get that message.

The unions’ DeVos Derangement Syndrome seems to have become pandemic. In Teen Vogue, the American Federation of Teachers has just run an op-ed which delves into the Ed Secretary’s alleged perfidy – diverting public funds to private schools instead of strengthening public schools.

In the world most of us inhabit, there is room for a thoughtful discussion of the merits of the Trump plan. Alex Spurrier, senior analyst with Bellwether Education Partners, praised Trump’s incrementalism and correctly notes, unlike his predecessors, the President has “scaled-down education ambitions.” Since the early 2000’s we have been clobbered with federal mandates like No Child Left Behind, Race to the Top, Common Core, etc., bureaucratic nightmares all, none of which has served the country’s students well.

Pacific Research Institute scholar Lance Izumi likes the proposal, noting it would “not be a top-down federal program, but would allow states to decide whether to participate and how to select eligible students, education providers and allowable education expenses.” Other prominent choicers, like the American Federation of Children, are also positively disposed to the plan.

That said, others are concerned with the fact that Washington is running the show. The Heritage Foundation maintains that the program “could invite further regulations, impede further tax overhauls and was out of the federal government’s jurisdiction.” The Cato Institute’s Neal McCluskey warned that while the proposal sought to “skirt the control problem” by making it optional, it still invited federal encroachment.

I would add to the above that while we have a parent-friendly administration in Washington now, I shudder to think what a President Warren or Sanders and Secretary of Education Randi Weingarten would do with the program.

My view is that while the Trump program is well intended, it’s best to leave choice to individual states. It is important, however, that the President is using his bully pulpit to publicize the damage wrought by a government monopoly school system, and that the poor and minorities are the hardest hit. Regardless, wherever and however choice rears its beautiful head, unionistas will be there, Grinch-like, trying to impugn, undermine and snuff it.

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Larry Sand, a former classroom teacher, is the president of the non-profit California Teachers Empowerment Network – a non-partisan, non-political group dedicated to providing teachers and the general public with reliable and balanced information about professional affiliations and positions on educational issues. The views presented here are strictly his own.

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