So far, Betsy DeVos, Donald Trump's nominee for U.S. Secretary of Education, seems to be one of the most, if not the most, unpopular of all of the cabinet nominees. That's not to say that she won't be confirmed. But as of my writing this, she has not been confirmed and only one more vote from the Republicans is needed to deny her the appointment.
Why is this? Well, just as there was bi-partisan unpopularity (aside from GOP establishment types) of Eric Cantor in Virginia's 7th district (my old district) during the 2014 elections, there is bi-partisan unpopularity of Betsy DeVos.
1. She is a blatant pay-to-play actor. She bought the Michigan legislature. She has given tens of thousands of dollars to several Senate Education Committee members. The way Cantor thought he was above members of the public, she operates in a way that shows she believes she is above members of public. On this point, this ad by End Citizens United is particularly devastating:
2. Besides purchasing pet education policies, Betsy Devos has no experience in education at all. Proposing someone to be U.S. Secretary of Education who has no experience in education at all is a slap in the face to all educators. Public school teachers and educators are tiring of getting crapped on and they are tired of people with little to no experience in education telling them what to do. Teachers got crapped on by the Bush administration and then the Obama administration and they are tired of it. Kind of like no one outside of the GOP establishment liked Cantor, hardly anyone who actually worked in public schools or had children in them liked Obama's education policies. Mostly insulated centrist Democratic and moderate Republican DC wonks and education reform-types liked Obama's education policies. Many of the policies that DeVos advocates for, including the Common Core, are part of the bi-partisan education reform regime that we have all been suffering through.
3. I live in a very conservative area of Virginia where public schools are very popular. In fact, public schools are very popular in many conservative areas in Virginia. 53% of white women voted for Trump. Public school teachers are 82% white and 76% female. Of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) members who voted, roughly one in five of them voted for Trump. Among National Education Association (NEA) member voters, more than one in three likely voted for Trump.
Basically, there is bi-partisan support of public schools. A small majority of white women voted for Trump. A large majority of teachers are white women. They might have voted for Trump (and I don't have time right now to get into how messed up that is) but that doesn't mean they take kindly to being insulted by the nomination of someone who has no experience in education and who doesn't support the work they do anyway.
4. Parents of students with disabilities are Republicans and they are Democrats and they are Independents. Disabilities do not manifest themselves in children according to the political party of their parents. These parents are very organized and they are very big advocates for their children and their groups are very powerful. I see this where I live, too. I also have a child with a (medical) disability. Except in extreme cases, because of IDEA, a child with disabilities has a better chance of being accommodated, served, and better educated in public schools than in private schools, let alone religious schools. The idea that a child with disabilities is to be protected and equitably educated is largely a mainstream, assumed one that is part of the fabric of public schooling. I have rights as a parent of a student with a disability, my child has rights as a student with a disability, it's on paper, and everybody knows it. Everybody, that is, except for Betsy DeVos. She has shown an ignorance of IDEA and a callousness towards students with disabilities. That is a big bi-partisan, political no-no.
5. In her confirmation hearing, Betsy DeVos came across as robotic, fumbling, clueless, lacking in leadership skills, and bland. I have yet to meet a bland educational leader who serves in a public position. Her answer to every question was a smile and "choice." She knew nothing beyond her own ideology.
Q: What would you do to serve students with disabilities?
Q: What is your plan to stem bullying?
Q: How are you going to enforce civil rights laws in our public schools?
Q: What are you going to do about sexual assault on college campuses?
Q: What are going to do when we give you follow-up questions to answer?
Plagiarizing may be part of the Trump administration modus operandi and education reform ideologues might be able to overlook it, but it does not go over well with parents and educators.
6. Betsy DeVos is a woman. She is completely unqualified but she is a woman. I don't doubt that Democrats (except for Eva Moskowitz) would oppose her nomination even if she were a man. But I wonder if a completely unqualified man would get put through the same thing.