Betsy DeVos, President Donald Trump’s choice to lead the Department of Education, faces possible opposition in the confirmation process from two female senators who say they are not convinced that DeVos is qualified enough to serve in the Cabinet position.
While the senators—both Republicans—say that they will vote the nomination out of committee, Senator Susan Collins (R-ME) and Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) have both raised concerns regarding DeVos’ beliefs on private schools as opposed to the public school system, as well as education for disabled students. Neither of them have publicly said whether they will vote in favor of DeVos when the nomination comes before the full Senate.
Sen. Collins said that she is worried DeVos’ long history of supporting private schools and alternative education such as home schooling will mean that government-run public schools will not get the same attention, and may even lose funding. During the committee hearings, DeVos’ answers regarding certain public school policies did not satisfy Sen. Collins, who maintains that DeVos does not understand that “her primary focus as education secretary would be to strengthen all public schools.”
Senator Lisa Murkowski voiced concerns of her own, pointing out that thousands of her constituents had contacted her office to speak out against DeVos’ confirmation. While Alaskans reiterate the concerns that Sen. Collins have regarding DeVos’ loyalty to private schools, they also question whether a DeVos-run Department of Education would adhere to enforcing the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, which forces public schools to offer individualized education for disabled and mentally ill students. During questioning, DeVos said that states should decide for themselves what kind of educations options they provide for students with disabilities—or whether those students can be better served by the private sector.
“She was very clearly making no commitment to enforcing federal laws, and that’s disqualifying. That’s an unwillingness to do the job she has applied for,” said Liz King, head of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, which is advising senators like Murkowski to vote ‘no’ on DeVos’ confirmation.
Most Republicans, however, did not remove their support. Tennessee Republican Senator Lamar Alexander said she would be an “excellent Secretary of Education,” and Senator Johnny Isakson (R-GA) called DeVos “pretty knowledgable.”
DeVos is an ardent defender of school voucher programs, which allow parents to send their children to private schools using the funding that it would have sent to the public school in that area. Voucher programs make private schools affordable for more students, and offer the chance for a more rigorous education and better teacher-student ratios.
Opponents of voucher programs, however, claim that it takes away critical funding from the public schools, resulting in even worse conditions for the students who remain. In addition, questions have been brought up regarding how the voucher program would work for disabled students, and whether the private schools and other types of instruction would be required to comply with the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.
DeVos is expected to make it through confirmation, but not without objections from Democrats and possibly a few Republicans.
Image Copyright Darron Birgenheier.