Senate HELP Committee on Tuesday held a hearing on the nomination of Betsy DeVos to serve as Secretary of Education. Democrats asked a number of pointed questions about her views on various federal education policies, while Republicans defended her as a champion of education reform.
The Committee is scheduled to vote on the nomination of DeVos on Tuesday.
Betsy DeVos is an American businesswoman, philanthropist, and education activist. DeVos is a member of the Republican Party known for her advocacy of school choice and voucher programs.
Here is a summary from the NREA:
The hearing was extremely contentious, with all Democratic members questioning her qualifications for the job and her commitment to the idea of public education. Following the hearing, Sen. Al Franken (D-Minnesota) announced his plan to vote against her nomination.
Republican members were largely supportive, and although all Republican members participated, only a few raised questions about her nomination.
There was not a discussion of federal funding levels for specific programs, or the merits of spending parity for defense and non-defense discretionary programs, but it was very clear that DeVos favors a massive shift of federal education funding from traditional public schools and programs to private and public charter schools.
DeVos appeared to satisfy the Republican members of the Committee by:
- Specifically promising to work with them on strengthening educational opportunities for students in rural areas
- Simplifying the FAFSA process, creating a uniform student loan repayment rate
- Applying evidence-based approaches to school evaluations
- Exploring alternative post-secondary education programs like technical schools and apprenticeships
- Repeatedly stating that she will be implementing the Every Student Succeeds Act as Congress intended, implying a different approach than that of Secretary John King.
One noteworthy interaction occurred with Senator Susan Collins (R-ME), where Senator Collins specifically asked about funding mechanisms for students with disabilities. DeVos committed to reviewing the issue, and stated that it might be a good idea for “funds to follow the students instead of going to the states” for distribution to local districts.
During this line of questioning, DeVos also expressed support for the TRIO program, and stated that the Department could do a better job of providing students with more information about secondary institutions during the admissions process, arguing that this approach would lead to higher completion rate for students.
The interaction with Democrats was much more adversarial, and a great deal of time was spent by Democrats questioning Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-TN) about the lack of a second round of questions.
Each Senator was allotted one round of five minutes for questions. Democrats also complained to the Chairman that DeVos has not finalized her agreement with the Office of Government Ethics (OGE). These agreements have been finalized before confirmation hearings with other nominees in the past.
In addition to raising concerns over her potential conflicts of interest, lack of experience in education policy, and political contributions made by DeVos and her family, Democrats also questioned DeVos on a wide variety of policy issues. DeVos stated that she would review, and not commit to enforce, the gainful employment rule, Title IX guidance addressing sexual assault on college campuses, and implementing equal accountability provisions of ESSA.
In a particularly heated interaction with Senator Tim Kaine (D-VA), DeVos also stated that she did not believe all schools receiving federal funds — public, private, or public charter — should be subject to the same federal requirements under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, nor did she believe all schools receiving federal funds should be subject to the same reporting requirements with respect to bullying and other disciplinary information. Other contentious interactions included DeVos stating that she would support Mr. Trump’s proposal to ban gun-free school zones, and an interaction with Senator Maggie Hassan (D-NH) where DeVos demonstrated a lack of familiarity with the Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act (IDEA).