Betsy DeVos faced a stacked game; do better next time.
Inot In just four months, the Biden administration has reshaped federal education policy. It poured nearly $ 200 billion in new federal funds to schools and colleges, reversed a series of Trump-era actions, launched new initiatives, and filled the education department with loyal veterans and staff. union. Looking at this, the two of us – one just three years at Betsy DeVos’ Department of Education and the other a longtime swamp dweller – can’t help but feel a strange mixture of envy and frustration. .
In education, Democrats tend to hit the ground running. After all, teachers’ unions, major K-12 and higher education groups, and the civil rights lobby tend to operate as an extension of the Democratic coalition. What’s more, Washington is teeming with left-wing consultancies, law firms, and advocacy groups that stock up on progressives eager to enter (or return) to the Department of Education.
Meanwhile, a Republican Secretary of Education is not only greeted by a hostile press and an educational establishment, but must struggle to staff the department of personnel because after every Republican administration there is a diaspora of personnel. GOP education officials rarely find landing spots in Washington; most are found in new fields, outside the Beltway, or in the private sector. The network supporting the conservatives is thinner, more fragile and more state-centric. So when the time comes to manage an educational transition or appoint the hundred or so key officials needed to run the department, Republican administrations struggle to find seasoned candidates – let alone candidates who can get started.
Even if it was easier to put together a team, it is often not clear what the playbook should be. Of course there would be a push on school choice, but Washington’s tools to squeeze in. in the choice of school are (fortunately) rather limited. And when it comes to other policy areas – for example, student aid, graduate degrees, federal grant programs, civil rights enforcement – Republican administrations have had a learning curve. abrupt as to what the reform entails, or the ins and outs. to make that happen.
So the time to tackle these issues is not November 2024 or 2028, when education conservatives and reformers can then have a chance to take the wheel. Now is the time to begin.
This process begins by persuading the Conservatives to take federal education policy more seriously. Too often, with education rightly seen as an issue for communities and states, the federal role is seen as a nuisance. It might be, but it’s a nuisance that gets you nowhere. When the right is out of power, it too often abandons federal policy-making, creating a void that the constellation of left-wing educational groups is eager to fill.
The Biden team arrived with a plan and knowledge on how to execute it. The right wing needs a similar sustained federal presence, with professionals developing a deep understanding of how to best limit progressive efforts and wield the machinery of power more effectively. After all, presidents such as Teddy Roosevelt and Ronald Reagan have shown how Washington’s force can be used to shatter trusts and overthrow interested public cartels.
A critical part of all of this is developing a deeper and more dynamic talent pool. In part, that means being at least a little more ecumenical when checking out talent. For example, while the Biden administration cheerfully assembled a mixed team of Warren / Sanders ideologues, union veterans, activists, and Democratic “reformers,” the Trump and Bush administrations marched on their own with awkward litmus tests. For Trump, simply having articulated a nuanced public position on, say, the core curriculum could disqualify strong candidates who are committed to empowering families, limiting federal authority, and breaking down bureaucracies. Under George W. Bush, anything but blind loyalty to No Child Left Behind – anathema to many conservatives – could be disqualifying. These litmus tests always come with costs, but those can be prohibitive in education, where Republicans work from a thin bench.
More importantly, meeting the pipeline challenge also requires creating a deeper talent pool. This means recruiting people in their twenties to work in depth on a range of state and federal education issues. It means creating scholarships and mentoring opportunities for conservative thinkers in education. It means pressuring supposedly non-partisan and non-ideological leadership and advocacy agendas to include the Conservatives. It means creating networks, right-wing educational organizations devoting more energy to creating benches, and more support for all of this from donors.
We need to spend more time building new centrist and right-wing organizations – of parents, teachers, professors, educational leaders, etc. Established organizations such as Jeb Bush’s ExcelinEd, as well as new ventures such as Parents Defending Education, 1776 Unites, the Foundation against Intolerance and Racism, and the AEI’s Conservative Education Reform Network all have a role to play here. – and they need a lot more company. We need to seek out right-wing community college presidents, child care coordinators and school leaders; connect them; and support them. In short, we must prepare now for the next opportunity.
It was Sun-Tzu who warned, several centuries ago The art of War, that “every battle is won or lost before it is fought”. Our progressive friends may not have much use for the classics these days, but they have taken Sun-Tzu’s teachings to heart. It is time for those of us on the right to do the same.
Jim Blew was the Assistant Secretary of Planning, Evaluation and Policy Development at the United States Department of Education under Secretary Betsy DeVos and is the author of the American Enterprise Institute report ” What the Conservatives could learn from Betsy DeVos ”. Frederick M. Hess is the Director of Education Policy Studies at AEI.