Education

Republicans Voting Against DeVos Are Backed By Teachers Unions

Two Republican senators who said they would not vote to support Betsy DeVos Wednesday have a friendly history with teachers unions.

Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Republican Sen. Susan Collins of Maine both announced Wednesday that they would not support Betsy DeVos, President Donald Trump’s choice to lead the Department of Education.

Murkowski was endorsed by the Alaska chapter of the National Education Association (NEA) in her 2016 campaign for Senate. The group, which represents 12,000 members who work in Alaska’s public schools, praised Murkowski for her “consistent commitment to improving public education.”

A former Parent Teachers Association president in Anchorage, Murkowski said that she has received an “explosion of calls in the past week,” pertaining to DeVos. She said she had received 30,000 calls over the past week, but could not say how many were from her home state of Alaska.

Collins, who has served in the Senate since 1997, received an “A” grade from the National Educators Association (NEA)in 2008. The “A” grade is the highest possible, according to the senator’s own press release. It is based on her voting record and “her co-sponsorship of legislation critical to NEA’s identified legislative priorities.” The “A” rating was also the result of “effective behind-the-scenes advocacy.”

The Maine senator may be positioning herself for a 2018 gubernatorial run back home by voting against what has become one of Trump’s most scrutinized cabinet picks.

Without the support of Sens. Murkowski and Collins, DeVos’s confirmation may come down to a tie-breaking vote by Vice President Mike Pence. If every Democrat votes against DeVos, along with the two Republican defectors, the vote would be settled by Pence.

The NEA, The American Federation of Teachers (AFT), and the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO) — the latter of which serves as an umbrella organization for dozens of teachers unions — have all fought desperately to block DeVos’s nomination.

Groups that are aggressively pushing to block DeVos’s confirmation have received $2.6 million from teachers unions and their allies, according to federal filings.

DeVos is a longtime advocate for alternatives to the traditional public school model. The billionaire philanthropist championed a charter school law in her home state of Michigan, and has pushed for educational choice, school vouchers and tuition tax credits.

Her advocacy and philanthropy reportedly irks the education establishment, who see her as a disruption to the status quo. “What you’re seeing here is a train wreck waiting to happen,” Lily Eskelsen Garcia, president of the NEA, said before Devos’s hearing.

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