By Rebecca Stokem, National News Writer
Betsy DeVos’ controversial nomination for Secretary of Education has passed the Committee of Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) by a 12-to-11 vote. All 12 Republican committee members voted in favor of her nomination, while all 11 Democrats voted against the selection. The status of her confirmation now awaits a vote by the full Senate. Currently, there are no Democrats in the Senate expected to vote in favor of DeVos. The Democrats have 48 votes, along with two Republican Senators who have stated they will vote against DeVos, totaling 50 votes. Either side needs 51 votes to have a majority.
DeVos’ nomination has polarized the Senate for two key reasons: her stance on school choice and her lack of educational experience. According to the Washington Post, DeVos has been a leader of the school choice movement, and supports providing families with vouchers that allow their children to receive a private or religious-based education. The Republican Party tends to side with DeVos’ more conservative stance on religious-based private education. She and her husband have personally donated millions of dollars over the years to fund private and charter school programs.
The Democrats, for the most part, see the increased funding of private education as a threat to the public school system, although there are groups like the Democrats for Education Reform (DFER) who do advocate more for school choice. Democrats traditionally view public education as a civil right, while Republicans view it as “less as vehicles of social equity and more as places that are supposed to prepare young people for college and careers,” the Washington Post reports. The Republicans’ treatment of education fosters competition similarly to competing businesses.
Democrats are also concerned about DeVos’ lack of educational experience. During her confirmation hearing on January 17, DeVos was questioned by Senator Tim Kaine. In regards to federal funding, Senator Kaine asked, “Will you insist upon equal accountability in any K-12 school or educational program that receives federal funding, whether public, public-charter, or private?” Despite the senator rewording the question a few times, DeVos’ repeated answered saying, “I support accountability,” until she finally responded negatively.
Senator Kaine also mentioned the Individuals with Disabilities and Education Act (IDEA), asking, “Should all K-12 schools receiving governmental funding be required to meet the requirements [of that federal law]?” DeVos replied that she believed that decision should be left up to the states to decide. This concerns some Democrats and educators because private schools are often not required to meet the same accommodations standards as public schools, which could put students with disabilities at a disadvantage.
Another senator who questioned DeVos was Senator Al Franken, who asked DeVos about her stance on proficiency versus growth, which is a prominent debate in the education community. Senator Franken asked DeVos whether she believed that assessments should be used to measure proficiency or growth, and what her opinion was on the advantage of each. DeVos’ reply indicated that she understood the two sides to be synonymous. She and Senator Franken also disagreed on the percentage increase of student debt within the last few years.
Many educators and citizens across the country share the concerns that the Democrats have about DeVos’ nomination. Republican senators Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski are joining them, and have said that they will vote against DeVos alongside the Senate Democrats.
A version of this article appeared in the Tuesday, February 7th print edition.
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