Senate Democrats grill the president-elect’s nominee for U.S. education secretary, who struggled to answer basic questions about public schools.
On Monday, Education Lab looked at what might happen in Washington state with Betsy DeVos as U.S. secretary of education. On Tuesday, she had her confirmation hearing (first), where she didn’t have answers for the most basic questions about her qualifications to lead the $68 billion federal education agency.
Lots was written about what she said — and didn’t say. Here’s a roundup:
Amber Phillips, in The Washington Post, noted DeVos couldn’t recall how much her family had given to the Republican Party ($200 million is “possible,” she said) or whether she agreed that all states must comply with a federal law protecting the rights of students with special needs (“I might have confused it” with a state law, she later clarified).
She also avoided providing a clear yes-or-no answer when Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine, last year’s Democratic vice-presidential candidate, asked multiple times whether all schools — public, private or charter — that receive taxpayer money should follow the same accountability rules.
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“Do you not want to answer my question?” Kaine asked one final time.
“I support accountability,” she answered with a laugh.
Other cringe-worthy moments, as compiled by Mother Jones, included DeVos’ claim that it would be “premature” to commit herself to upholding sexual-assault reporting standards for college campuses and when she struggled to clarify her familiarity with a long-running debate in education circles over the connection between standardized test scores and a student’s academic growth.
Last night, I asked Betsy DeVos a very simple Q about student growth & proficiency. Her lack of basic knowledge astounded me. #DevosHearing
— Sen. Al Franken (@SenFranken) January 18, 2017
(Mother Jones previously reported on the nominee’s lifetime work to overhaul public education in her home state of Michigan. DeVos, for example, has called for the need to “retire” and “replace” Detroit public schools.)
Meanwhile, Republicans on the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pension committee offered their praise of DeVos’ work in education. And they’re in the majority, so they’ll almost certainly prevail.
DeVos, who did not attend public school or send her children to public school, has pushed for the expansion of charter schools in Michigan and advocates for programs that would allow parents to use public money to send their children to private schools.
“She is, and has been, on our children’s side,” said former Education Secretary and committee Chair Lamar Alexander, as quoted in the Atlantic.
.@SenatorTimScott: "Mrs. DeVos is clearly not opposed to accountability." Says she is opposed to leaving kids trapped in failing schools.
— Politics K-12 (@PoliticsK12) January 17, 2017
The Chronicle of Higher Education also credited DeVos for providing some of her clearest answers in response to Republican Sen. Johnny Isakson’s question about simplifying the forms that college students must complete to be considered for federal financial aid.
“I don’t think we should make it any more difficult than necessary” for students to complete the forms, she said.
The New York Times, however, highlighted the partisan back-and-forth during Tuesday’s hearing.
Alexander, for example, “limited the questioning to one round of five minutes for each senator, prompting howls from Democrats, who noted that previous hearings had included two rounds of questions.”
In its story, The New York Times also featured Sen. Patty Murray, of Washington, the ranking Democrat on the committee.
A former preschool teacher, Murray asked DeVos whether she would commit herself to keep public schools public, and to not “cut a single penny from public education.”
“Ms. DeVos began to demur,” the Times reported, “saying that ‘not all schools are working for the students that are assigned to them’ and that she would work to find ‘common ground’ to give parents ‘options.’ ”
Murray, The Times said, took that as DeVos’ not being willing to commit.
Perhaps the evening’s most interesting exchange came when Sen. Chris Murphy, a Democrat, asked DeVos what she thought about guns in school.
As CNN reported, Murphy represents Newtown, Conn., the site of the deadly 2012 school shooting. DeVos told Murphy she believed firearms on campus are “best left to locales and states to decide.”
After Murphy pushed DeVos about why she can’t say definitively whether they belong, DeVos brought up a story Sen. Mike Enzi told earlier about a school in Wyoming that has fences around it to protect against grizzly bears.
“ I think probably there, I would imagine there is probably a gun in a school to protect from potential grizzlies,” she said.
The comment drew some laughs in the room.
Last night, Betsy DeVos—@realDonaldTrump’s pick for Secretary of Education—said schools might need guns to protect against bears.
— Pramila Jayapal (@PramilaJayapal) January 18, 2017
In fact, Wyoming bans guns from all public schools, as Emma Brown of The Washington Post revealed Wednesday.
The committee plans to vote as early as next week on DeVos’ nomination.