NEA President Lily Eskelsen García drew an apparent line in the sand with the Trump administration and U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, saying she would not try to bridge the yawning policy and political gap between them.
“I will not allow the National Education Association to be used by Donald Trump or by Betsy DeVos,” she said in a fiery keynote before thousands of delegates. “I do not trust their motives. I do not believe in ‘alternative facts.’ ... There will be no photo op.”
“We will find common ground with many Republicans and many Democrats on many issues, [but] we will not find common ground with an administration that is cruel and callous to our children, to their families,” she continued.
That’s despite the urging of family and colleagues who have encouraged Eskelsen García to seek ways to cooperate with the administration.
A Different Approach
The speech highlighted the different approaches the two national teachers’ unions have taken to this administration. AFT President Randi Weingarten, for example, went and visited a school with DeVos in April. While not exactly a photo op, it at least showed the two national education leaders could be civil to one another. (Weingarten has since said plenty of critical things about DeVos in other forums.)
The NEA, on the other hand, has resisted those steps. Eskelsen García said she’s still waiting on the answers to questions she posed in a letter to DeVos way back in February and won’t even consider meeting with her until they’re answered.
While the speech did a great job of riling up the delegates, it did not give much of an indication about how the union plans to resist DeVos’ education plans over the long haul.
That’s understandable on one front, since the administration’s education plans still seem kind of murky. Its proposed budget, which would cut numerous programs, including a $2 billion professional-development program, is unlikely to survive intact. But what happens when the union needs to engage on workaday matters—for example, the implementation of the new federal law, the Every Student Succeeds Act?
Put another way: When you’ve already called for the removal of an education secretary—and a Democrat at that—what have you got left in the arsenal?
We will have to wait and see what the NEA’s answer is.
A version of this news article first appeared in the Teacher Beat blog.