After Much Controversy, Betsy DeVos Confirmed Secretary of Education

Today, Vice President Mike Pence cast the tie-breaking vote to officially confirm Betsy DeVos as U.S. Secretary of Education.

DeVos’ confirmation comes after an entire night of protests inside and outside the Capitol and after months of controversy since then President-elect Donald Trump announced her as his education secretary pick in late November 2016.

What else do we know about DeVos?

DeVos is: a Michigan native; an avid member of and donor to the Republican Party; a fervent school choice advocate; and a billionaire. Her track record immediately created an unprecedented amount of controversy across America as politicians, educators, and citizens all questioned whether DeVos was qualified for the position of secretary of education because of what she is not: a public school graduate or an open public education supporter.

Despite nationwide skepticism about DeVos, on January 31, the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions voted twice to advance her education secretary nomination to the senate floor. CNN says the results of the vote were split among party lines: all 12 Republicans on the committee voted in favor of DeVos, while all 11 Democrats on the committee voted against her.

Two Republicans, however, admitted they could not yet completely support DeVos. According to Washington Post, senators Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska revealed they voted in favor of DeVos’ nomination in the committee solely so the entire senate would later be able to vote on it. In that full Senate vote, both Collins and Murkowski voted against DeVos.

Collins questioned DeVos’ understanding that the secretary of education’s primary focus is to strengthen America’s public schools and of her familiarity with 1975’s “Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.” Murkowski emphasized her concerns about DeVos’ fixation on school choice and revealed that in Alaska, a number of residents called to express their opposition of DeVos’ nomination.

So the decision is made, but what does it mean for the future of U.S. education? Here’s an update on what we’ve just learned, what we know, and what we still want to learn about DeVos and the education secretary position.

What we’ve just learned:

DeVos is officially the education secretary: After more than two months since her initial nomination and one week since its advancement to the full senate floor, DeVos has finally been declared the secretary of education.

DeVos plagiarized some of her answers to the Senate’s questions: On the morning of January 31, we learned the last advancement of DeVos’ confirmation controversy. Washington Post first reported that some of DeVos’ answers to the Senate’s questionnaire proved similar to other government officials’ quotes and published documents, and that she did not cite her sources.

What we know:

DeVos does not have a degree in education: DeVos graduated from Calvin College, a private institution in Grand Rapids, Michigan, with a degree in business administration and political science.

DeVos did not attend public school and neither did her children: Before attending Calvin College, DeVos went through the Holland Christian School system in Holland, Michigan. DeVos also sent her four children to private school.

DeVos has never worked in a school: DeVos may be a reputable philanthropist, political advocate, and businesswoman with a well-known interest in school choice, but she has never actually worked in any type of school.

DeVos does not support Common Core learning standards: In an article we published previously, it was addressed that while DeVos has been a part of organizations that support Common Core, she does not, in any respect, back the widely-used learning standards.

What we want to learn:

What are her actual views on public education and public school teachers?
In a fact check conducted by Snopes, it was said that DeVos has spoken out in serious support of school choice, which technically means she might redirect “public monies to private schools via vouchers or other schemes.” She has not refuted this speculation, other than to say she thinks school choice should be a state decision. It was also said that a conservative think tank with connections to her family expressed belief that public school teachers are overpaid; DeVos has not commented on this either.

What does she have planned for early-childhood education and higher education?
According to the Atlantic, DeVos has not spoken clearly on her views of early childhood education or higher education, aside from stating she would support the expansion of vocational schools and career-training programs.

What will be her first moves as education secretary?
Now that DeVos is the secretary of education, what will be her first moves? We know that she fervently supports privatizing education; will this be reflected in her initial actions? Only time will tell.

Elizabeth Hartel

Elizabeth Hartel

Elizabeth hails from New Jersey and studies journalism at Emerson College, where she works for two publications: a lifestyle magazine and a music magazine. In addition to education, she also enjoys writing about health and fitness and pop culture.