Democratic legislators are always most conscientious when they are playing stooges for the teacher unions, perhaps the most powerful component of the party's base. Hence the all-nighter that Democratic U.S. senators pulled on the Senate floor to posture against President Trump's nomination of Betsy DeVos for U.S. education secretary.
Yes, DeVos has no experience in administration of public education, but then no one who has ever tried to get a straight answer out of a school superintendent will hold that against her. The real objection to DeVos has been her advocacy of school choice -- that is, giving public schools some competition from charter schools and private schools. Speaking against DeVos during that all-nighter, Connecticut Sen. Chris Murphy said she had sought to "undermine" public schools.
School choice is a complicated issue. It can divert resources from the poor to the financially comfortable, who already have a large degree of choice through their ability to move away from urban poverty to the suburbs. But most advocacy of school choice aims to empower the poor, though even that can rob struggling schools of their best students.
In any case insofar as the U.S. Education Department long has represented the education establishment and particularly the teacher unions, the department could use an outsider's perspective, as could all of primary education in the country. For in many states, including Connecticut, two-thirds of high school students graduate without ever mastering high school work, most of public education in this country having collapsed into social promotion.
Further, a big problem with public education in Connecticut particularly is that it's not really public at all. For example, since 1984 teacher evaluations have been exempted from disclosure under Connecticut's freedom-of-information law, an amendment to the law having been demanded by the teacher unions in response to a finding by the Freedom ofInformation Commission that the law required disclosure. Among all state and municipal employees in Connecticut, only teachers enjoy this exemption.
A few weeks ago The Hartford Courant reported that about a third of Connecticut's school boards evaluate their superintendents only by discussion in private meetings to avoid generating any records that would become public. State law requires towns to elect school board members for staggered terms so that even if townspeople are unanimous in wanting to replace every school board member, this cannot be accomplished in fewer than three elections over six years.
Then there is Connecticut's "minimum expenditure requirement," the state law that forbids towns from reducing school spending even if student enrollment goes to zero. The law's purpose has been to ensure that all financial savings from declining enrollment go straight into teacher salaries and benefits, with taxpayers recovering not a cent.
None of these provisions serves the public any more than the Democratic senators, in opposing DeVos, served the public. These provisions serve only those employed in education, and the Democratic senators have been only verifying Ambrose Bierce's definition of politics: "A strife of interests masquerading as a contest of principles; the conduct of public affairs for private advantage."
IS PRESIDENT TRUMP A FASCIST? One swallow may not make a summer, but Trump's ugliest approach to fascism happened last week, when, at a meeting at the WhiteHouse with sheriffs from around the country, he was told of a state senator in Texas who has proposed legislation to prohibit police from seizing the assets of people who are only suspected but not convicted of crime.
The legislation would uphold ordinary due process of law. But Trump's response was: "We'll destroy his career." The sheriffs laughed. They should have shouted: "Sieg heil!"
Chris Powell is managing editor of the Journal Inquirer, on Manchester, Conn.