President Donald Trump’s nominee to run the federal education department was approved by the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee along party lines, 12-11.
The nomination of Betsy DeVos – one of the most controversial of Trump’s cabinet picks – will now move on to a vote by the full Senate.
Expressing concerns about DeVos, two Republican senators — Sens. Susan Collins (ME) and Lisa Murkowski (AK) — said they would only vote for DeVos’ approval in order to move her nomination to the full Senate. Both said they required further assessment in order to commit to approving her.
The vote along party lines strikes a tense chord for the HELP Committee and its chairman, Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN), who has frequently boasted of HELP’s “bipartisan” work to pass the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), the massive federal law that replaced No Child Left Behind.
Controversy erupted during the HELP Committee’s vote on DeVos’ nomination when Democrat members claimed the vote was not valid since Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch (UT) voted by proxy to confirm DeVos. Committee chairman Alexander allowed ranking member Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) to make a motion to overrule the chair and to have the committee members vote on the motion. He then proceeded with another vote on DeVos’ nomination with Hatch present. The official vote remained 12-11 in favor of her confirmation.
The views of establishment Republicans and Democrats on DeVos’ nomination have largely been the focus of mainstream media, while Breitbart News, the Federalist’s Joy Pullmann, and conservatives such as Michelle Malkin have reported on opposition to DeVos by the thousands of grassroots parent and citizen activists who have been battling establishment politicians over federal education overreach in programs such as Common Core.
Though, upon her nomination, DeVos said she is “certainly” not supportive of Common Core, she has supported, through funding and service on boards, many organizations that are vocal champions of the federal initiative. Additionally, one of DeVos’ main supporters is Jeb Bush, a prominent promoter of Common Core. Among the U.S. Department of Education staffers who have already been sworn in are supporters of Common Core and individuals with connections to both Bush and Bill Gates, the Microsoft founder who served as the primary source of private funding for Common Core.
Democrats – largely ignoring national test scores showing the continued downturn of performance by the nation’s public school students – have portrayed DeVos as unqualified to run a department that oversees the nation’s public schools, since she has largely been an advocate for charter schools and school vouchers. Democrat senators also spent considerable time during committee debate discussing concerns that DeVos would not continue President Barack Obama’s expansion of the department’s Office for Civil Rights.
Teachers’ unions have strongly opposed DeVos’ nomination. In a press release, the National Education Association (NEA) said, “Educators, parents, students and public education advocates have emailed more than 1 million letters to the U.S. Senate urging senators to vote no on Betsy DeVos to become secretary of education.”
“In my years as a public education advocate, I have never witnessed this level of public outcry,” said Lily Eskelsen Garcia, NEA president. “Clearly Betsy DeVos’ nomination—as unqualified and as unprepared as she is—has touched a raw nerve not only with public education advocates like me but with the general public as well.”
“If confirmed, DeVos would become the first secretary of education with zero experience with public schools,” she continued. “She’s never worked in a public school. She’s never been a teacher, a school administrator, nor served on any public board of education.”
Republicans, however, portray DeVos as a generous devotee of school choice and of giving parents the opportunity to remove their children from failing public schools through voucher systems. Senators such as Tim Scott (R-SC) say DeVos’ skills in developing school choice programs would offer low-income, disadvantaged students an opportunity to get out of failing public schools that leave them without the opportunity to advance into higher education and meaningful careers.
Sen. Pat Roberts (R-KS) dismissed Democrats’ concerns that DeVos would not work for a good public school system.
“I attended public schools, and my wife and I chose to send our children to public schools and universities,” Roberts said in a statement following the committee’s vote. “I understand the importance and proud tradition of public schools in Kansas. I want to ensure every child receives a high-quality education.”
“I welcome the opportunity to work with Mrs. DeVos to ensure Kansans can make their own decisions about the best way to improve education, free from federal interference,” Roberts added. “The President and his team fully understand that a one-size-fits-all education system just does not work. I have spoken with Mrs. DeVos numerous times, and I am confident she is the right person for the job. I urge my colleagues to quickly confirm her.”