Early Friday, February 3, the senate voted to advance Betsy DeVos, President Donald Trump’s controversial pick for Education Secretary, to a final confirmation vote. CNN reported that the final vote “was 52 to 48 along party lines.”
Betsy DeVos has recently found herself under attack by Democrats of the senate, as well as two key Republicans, for the position that she takes on charter and public schools as well as her overall performance during her confirmation hearing last month. When DeVos was nominated to the post of Education Secretary in November, Donald Trump called her “a brilliant and passionate education advocate.” Why then, is President Trump’s pick so controversial?
Much of the controversy that surrounds DeVos, President Trump’s pick for Education Secretary, is focused on her support of private charter schools. These schools are set up by parents, teachers, or community groups and publicly funded. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) stated that the work she has done in Michigan elevated the for-profit schools without any “consideration of the severe harm done to traditional public schools” despite “overwhelming evidence” that the private charter schools weren’t any more successful than the public school system.
The New York Times reported that, in 2001, Betsy DeVos described education reform as a way to “advance God’s kingdom.” Some critics fear that loosening the reigns of the education system and making way for more charter schools would “allow them to pursue a creationist, evangelical agenda.”
In December 2016, the Detroit Free Press published an editorial on DeVos and education. It stated that Betsy “DeVos isn’t an educator, or an education leader.” It went on to say the following.
“She’s not an expert in pedagogy or curriculum or school governance. In fact, she has no relevant credentials or experience for a job setting standards and guiding dollars for the nation’s public schools.”
Susan Collins of Maine, one of the two Republican senators who won’t be voting for DeVos, said that she was “concerned that Mrs. DeVos’ lack of experience with public schools will make it difficult for her to fully understand, identify and assist.”
At the confirmation hearing, Betsy DeVos didn’t seem to be familiar with the Individuals With Disabilities in Education Act (Idea), which is a federal law that guarantees accommodations in the public school system for disabled students.
Supporters, which include 20 of the nation’s governors, wrote a letter to the Senate. In the letter, they referred to DeVos as an “inspired choice.” The letter stated the following.
“Trump has made an inspired choice to reform federal education policy and allow state and local policymakers to craft innovative solutions to ensure our children are receiving the skills and knowledge to be successful in the world and modern workforce.”
Former Governor of Arizona Jan Brewer told MSNBC that “we all want high academic standards and we all want consistent standards and Betsy DeVos will do that.” Others in support of her nomination say that DeVos cares about children and wants to find the best solutions to improve the nation’s education system.
In Michigan, Betsy DeVos has faced large amounts of criticism from educators and parents alike, who blame her for poor performance in education and unregulated schools. Michigan has over 300 charter schools, the nation’s highest school to state ratio. Lamar Lemmons, of Detroit Public Schools, claims that there is zero accountability in Michigan’s unregulated charter schools.
Ivy Baily, president of the Detroit Federation of Teachers, backs up this claim by stating, “If you’re getting federal dollars to run your charter school, then you should be held to some standard. That hasn’t happened in Detroit.” Michigan State Representative Sherri Gay-Dagnogo believes that “both traditional and charter schools can coexist, but the policy DeVos advocated has been destabilizing to both.”
According to supporters, DeVos is looking to bring back local control and stability to the public education system. In a statement on Thursday, Senator Dean Heller claimed that DeVos “understands the need to bring back education control to state and local boards” and will “empower our parents, teachers, students, and local education officials.”
Betsy DeVos has been praised for her compassionate interest. School choice programs are designed to put all of the power back into the parent’s hands. DeVos believes that every child, regardless of income or where they live, is entitled to the same educational opportunities. A Detroit News op-ed called her a “woman devoted to helping kids succeed regardless of their socio-economic background.” School choice programs give children born to low-income families the same opportunities as children in higher-income homes.
In 2015, an education reporter witnessed that in “urban school districts across the country, student performance is flat, poor, and minority students are experiencing staggering inequalities.” A study commissioned by the Department of Education, when following similar programs, “found that participants saw a 21 percentage point increase in graduation rates.”
School choice has the potential to empower children who are economically underprivileged. Furthermore, they encourage racial diversity and place children in the best academic environment for their unique needs, whether it be a public, charter, or private school. That being said, President Trump’s controversial pick for Education Secretary, Betsy DeVos has never worked in education. She did not attend a public school and holds no education degree. In fact, if confirmed, her first job in education would be Education Secretary, the country’s highest position.
A final vote is expected on Tuesday. Sean Spicer, the White House Press Secretary, claimed on Friday that he is confident that DeVos will be confirmed. However, it is anticipated that Vice President Mike Pence will need to be summoned to the Capitol to break the expected 50 to 50 tie.
[Featured Image by Carolyn Kaster/AP Images]