This article was written by Olivia Little for WIUX News.
On Tuesday afternoon, the Senate voted narrowly to confirm Betsy DeVos as Secretary of Education with a vote of 51-50. Republican Senators Collins and Murkowski joined the fourty-six Democrats and two Independents opposed to DeVos’ appointment which brought the vote to an even tie.
Vice President Mike Pence casted the deciding vote for DeVos. Under Constitutional rules, if the Senate is equally divided, the Vice President is granted the deciding vote. It was the first time that a Vice President casted the deciding vote on a cabinet nominee in U.S. history.
DeVos’ contentious confirmation begs the question: why is there so much volatility surrounding a nominee, especially a nominee for Secretary of Education?
Betsy DeVos’ lack of experience in public education has proved to be nationally troubling. In fact, the nomination of Betsy DeVos has been scrutinized and rejected by nearly 250 civil rights and education groups.
Wade Henderson, president and CEO of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, wrote a letter repudiating the nomination of DeVos; “The Secretary of Education should be committed to policies and practices that make schools safe and welcoming for all children who spend most of every day there. Betsy DeVos has failed to demonstrate that she is qualified to do that job or that she understands what the job requires.”
DeVos’ inability to articulate education policy concerning growth versus proficiency models, accommodations for students with disabilities, and the allowance of firearms in public schools has sparked unrest among educators. The President of the American Federation of Teachers, an organization that represents over one million education professionals nationwide, has called the confirmation of DeVos a “sad day for children.”
Prior to Tuesday’s vote, Senate Democrats occupied the floor for a ‘talkathon’ in an effort to derail DeVos’ confirmation. Democrats fear that she doesn’t understand the nuances of national education policy. They also fear that she is fundamentally opposed to public education and has several conflicts of interest from her former donations to politicians.
So, what does the future of public education look like under the control of Secretary DeVos?
Glancing at DeVos’ records provides insight as to what education policy changes might occur under her governance. DeVos’ unfaltering support of voucher programs, charter schools, and redirecting public funds to religious institutions is quite significant. Yet, only time will tell if her unequivocal support for such reforms will translate into meaningful action.
While the fate of public education under DeVos’ administration is unclear, we do know for certain that those opposed to her appointment will be sure to keep a keen eye on her future actions.