Senator Al Franken, who once played the character Stuart Smalley in a previous career for which he was eminently more qualified, attended the absolute best and most expensive private school in Minnesota. Current tuition: About $30,000. Good for him, his parents could afford it and wanted the very best for their son.
Franken’s own children attended one of the finest and most expensive schools in Manhattan. Current tuition: Well over $40,000. Good for them, their very wealthy father could afford it and wanted the very best for his kids.
But now Al Franken is standing, George Wallace-like, at the doors to private schools like those, essentially telling poor children they are not welcome. No, he isn’t literally blocking the entrance, but in effect that’s what Democrats tried to do when they unanimously voted against the nomination of Betsy DeVos to be Secretary of Education.
The left despises DeVos for various reasons, not least of which because she is an extremely wealthy woman. You’ll rarely see her name in the New York Times or Washington Post without the adjective ‘billionaire.’ Even more egregious is the fact that Secretary DeVos poses an existential threat to the teachers’ unions whose cash, extracted involuntarily from the rank-and-file, is the lifeblood of the modern Democratic Party.
Franken himself has received something like $150,000 from teachers’ unions and their affiliates. Put another way, that’s almost enough for four years at his kids’ posh school.
Betsy DeVos, rather than leading the life of luxury she could easily afford, devoted decades and much of her family fortune to education. She is a major proponent of choice, a word that Democrats love in other circumstances but abhor in education. She is right in step with most minority parents, who want help in sending their kids to better schools. But Democrats like Al Franken seem to want poor children locked into unionized public schools that are often violent and failing.
Franken complains that Betsy DeVos is inexperienced and unqualified. He insisted, ‘It’s not a job for amateurs who don’t know the first thing about education.’ That’s almost as rich as Al Franken himself. His primary qualifications for winning a Senate seat in 2008 were being a celebrity and having a team of great electoral lawyers who somehow managed to unearth new votes in an endless series of recounts.
Truth is, we don’t know whether Secretary DeVos will be a successful revolutionary. She is up against some remarkably powerful forces – ultra-wealthy unions, an entrenched bureaucracy at the Education Department, and an entire political party. Democrats vowed to fight her nomination tooth-and-nail, which they did. But she is now in her office on Maryland Avenue, no doubt getting the stink eye from many of her subordinates, and setting off on a journey that would make Odysseus apprehensive.
School choice and voucher programs have had mixed results, but can they really be worse than the status quo? During his campaign, Donald Trump posed a simple question to minority voters when asking for their vote: ‘What do you have to lose?’ We might ask the same thing now to Al Franken and other far-left zealots: What do you have to lose, other than some hefty campaign contributions?
Cheryl Kirk, a black mother of three and a nurse, recently wrote an impassioned letter to Franken, one which is worth quoting: ‘How in the world have you and those before you been willing and able to sit by while black and brown and poor children have been trapped in underperforming schools?’ Ms. Kirk continued: ‘Senator Franken, I realize that you have wealth and all this may be an exercise in pretending to solve problems that won’t ever affect you. But this is my life. And my kids.’ It’s worth noting that Cheryl Kirk’s children all attend private schools thanks to Indiana’s voucher program. And, by the way, she headlined her blog post and letter: ‘Dear Senator Franken, this isn’t #SNL.’
Which brings us full circle back to Stuart Smalley, Franken’s self-help character on Saturday Night Live. His daily affirmation included this line: ‘I’m good enough, I’m smart enough, and doggone it, people like me.’ Well, Al, there are quite a few poor parents who don’t like you all that much at the moment. Why not give them a fighting chance? Why not, Al?