Several of Trump’s picks for his Cabinet have all been highly controversial, including Ben Carson, General James Mattis and now Betsy DeVos as the Secretary of Education. After her Senate confirmation hearing on Jan. 17, concerns were raised over whether or not she is ready to handle the job.
DeVos, a billionaire from Michigan and former chairwoman of the Michigan Republican Party, has thus far been known for her advocacy of school choice and voucher programs and for being a strong supporter of charter schools in Detroit and Michigan. Most people expect that these will be the issues that she focuses on most during her time as Secretary of Education.
However, DeVos has had absolutely no experience in the realm of public education and even seems to be against it. The nominee for Secretary of Education went to a private high school before she attended Calvin College – which you guessed it is a private college. Her children have never attended public school either, which would make DeVos the first Secretary of Education to be completely unfamiliar with the public school system.
Besides the questions surrounding her familiarity with public school, many liberals and conservatives have noticed that DeVos’ stances on early childhood and higher education issues remain unclear. Elizabeth Warren was one of the Democratic committee members who fiercely questioned the nominee during her confirmation hearing. She managed to ask key questions about the most concerning issues even though each Senate member had only five minutes to interview DeVos.
DeVos admitted she has no knowledge about student loans, which is concerning, especially due to the fact that the U.S. manages a massive program of $1 trillion and about 44 million people are currently paying back student loans.
“So you have no personal experience with college financial aid or management of higher education,” Warren said to sum things up.
Sen. Bernie Sanders was also present at the hearing. When he brought up the topic of tuition- free college from his own 2016 presidential campaign, DeVos avoided the question saying, “Senator, I think that’s a really interesting idea. We also have to think about the fact that there’s nothing in life that’s truly free.” When Sanders repeated the question two more times, DeVos added, “I think we can work together and we could work hard on making sure that college or higher education in some form is affordable for all young people that want to pursue it, and I would look forward to that opportunity if confirmed.”
Sanders’ question was only one of many that the nominee for Secretary of Education avoided. The “Dear Colleague” letter in 2011 under the Obama administration dictated key policies that colleges must have in place when dealing with issues of sexual assault on campus under Title IX. According to this letter, any higher school’s administration also has a responsibility “to take immediate and effective steps to end sexual harassment and sexual violence.” DeVos, however, said “it would be premature” for her to commit to supporting that letter.
After Trump was accused of sexual assault by numerous women, DeVos’s unwillingness to make a promise to keep campuses safe is especially troubling. If the president believes that he is entitled to talk about women in the manner that he does, then what is the future of how sexual assault is dealt with both on and off campus?
Sen. Tim Kaine asked DeVos if all schools should meet the requirements of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), which guarantees services to students with disabilities. DeVos replied that it is a matter that’s best left to the states. Further questioning revealed her apparent lack of knowledge about IDEA which has been a federal law since 1990. DeVos justified herself by saying she “may have confused it.”
DeVos additionally stated during her hearing that she would support any move that Trump might make to ban gun-free school zones. Her response to the question of whether guns had any place in schools prompted laughter in the room and spawned several memes mocking her on the internet.
“I will refer back to Sen. Enzi and the school he is talking about in Wyoming,” she said. “I think probably there, I would imagine there is probably a gun in a school to protect from potential grizzlies.”
James Corden of “The Late Late Show” joked about her comment, saying, “She knows the right to bear arms isn’t about actual bears, right?”
Jan. 20 saw Donald Trump officially become president and some of his first actions included signing executive orders. As he signed, he remarked on several of his choices, saying of DeVos, “Ah, Betsy. Education. Right?”
The committee vote on DeVos has been postponed as of Jan. 22 after receiving the completed ethics review. Typically, the ethics review is finished before the nominee’s confirmation hearing. DeVos pledged to resolve any sources of conflict that were identified, including education foundations and family trusts.