Last night, Colorado’s U.S. Senator Michael Bennet took to the Senate floor as part of a protest intended to delay a vote on President Trump’s Education Secretary nominee, Betsy DeVos. Here’s what he gallingly said:
“I have no doubt that Mrs. DeVos sincerely cares about children, and it is not her fault that President Trump nominated her. So let me be clear: I am addressing the President and not Mrs. DeVos when I say that this nomination is an insult to schoolchildren and their families, to teachers and principals and communities fighting to improve their public schools all across this country.”
“Even with the limited questioning allowed at the education committee hearing, it quickly became clear that Mrs. DeVos lacks the experience and understanding to be an effective Secretary of Education.”
Here’s why his statement is appalling. Just this year, in a profile piece in the Washington Post, Bennet himself was criticized for his lack of education experience when he was made directly responsible for the state’s largest school district.
“To Bennet’s friends and family, the idea of his becoming a big-city school superintendent seemed nutty. Not only did he have no training or experience in education, he had never attended a public school. Neither had any of his three daughters.” (The Peak emphasis)
One could argue that the Secretary of Education is a larger role, but it’s really not. Bennet was directly in charge of the welfare of 160 schools in the Denver School District. DeVos is responsible for setting policy and working with a team to implement it. Unlike Bennet, DeVos has fought to provide education for our nation’s most vulnerable children for decades, serving on the boards of several entities dedicated to improving our country’s schools.
But the hypocrisy gets much, much worse. Over the weekend, the Colorado Education Association (read: state level teachers union) found 100 people to protest DeVos’ confirmation outside of U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner’s office. The mob cited the fact that Gardner had received donations – approximately $49,000 – from DeVos. As we defended Gardner on Twitter, Chalkbeat editor, Eric Gorski said:
— Eric Gorski (@egorski) February 4, 2017
It got us thinking. Sure, Bennet has a reputation for liking education reform, which should put him at odds with the National Education Association and American Federation of Teachers, but is this born out in actual campaigning? The answer is no. And, in fact, Bennet has been one of the largest beneficiaries of the NEA’s…generosity.
Let’s go back to 2010. Bennet, up again now-Congressman Ken Buck, was a top targeted race. While it’s true that the NEA only gave Bennet $7,250 directly in 2010, NEA Advocacy, the group’s super PAC, spent a whopping $1.897 million against Buck in defense of Bennet during the 2010 race. To put this in perspective, NEA Advocacy spent $2.302 million against all other candidates combined. The Buck/Bennet race was the fund’s top target and accounted for 45% of all spending in the 2010 cycle.
So, if Gardner is “bought” by DeVos for a measly $49,000, what does a nearly $2 million NEA payoff mean for Bennet? It certainly means that Bennet is in the pocket of the NEA, and that’s what this DeVos fight is really about. She has been a key player in the movement that demonstrated that public education is better without unions, and that absolutely terrifies unions.