School Choice Advocate Confirmed as Ed Sec in Historic Tiebreaking Vote

Published February 7, 2017

DeVos, most recently chairwoman of the American Federation for Children, a school choice advocacy group, has long supported charter schools and voucher programs. DeVos cleared the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions by a 12–11 party-line vote on January 31. DeVos was confirmed by the full Senate on February 7.

“Democrats, teachers unions, and liberal protesters have been flooding senators with calls and emails protesting her nomination for myriad reasons,” The New York Times reported in January, citing DeVos’ “donations to Republicans and their causes” as a main bone of contention for protestors.

DeVos needed 50 Senate votes to become the next U.S. education secretary. Democrats held the Senate floor for 24 hours leading up the final vote, in an attempt to persuade more Republicans to reject DeVos. All 48 Senate Democrats and two Republicans—Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska—voted against confirmation.

During his campaign, President Donald Trump proposed a $20 billion voucher program to allow poor families to access schools of their choice.

“We acknowledge today that not all schools are working for the students that are assigned to them,” DeVos said during her confirmation hearing. “I’m hopeful that we can work together to find common ground and ways that we can solve those issues and empower parents to make choices on behalf of their children that are right for them.”

Democrats ‘Engaged in Small Ball’

CJ Szafir, vice president for policy at the Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty (WILL), says Senate Democrats purposely focused on petty issues to undermine DeVos.

“The Democrats on the committee had the opportunity to engage in a substantive conversation about federal education issues with DeVos,” Szafir said. “Instead, they engaged in small ball, focusing on issues relating to her family’s wealth and religious donations. It’s not surprising that they would do this since public opinion is clearly behind DeVos’ positions on school choice, vouchers, and charter schools.”

‘A Disruption of the Status Quo’

WILL Research Fellow Collin Roth says the education establishment knows DeVos threatens their security.

“Given all the change coming to Washington, DC, it was clear at Betsy DeVos’ confirmation hearing that progressives fear most a disruption of the status quo at the Education Department,” Roth said.  

‘A Vote for America’s Children’

Kelly McCutchen, president of the Georgia Public Policy Foundation, says DeVos’ confirmation will be a boon to the nation’s students.

“The vote for Betsy DeVos is a vote for America’s children,” McCutchen said. “Mrs. DeVos has exercised her constitutional right to put her money where her mouth is—into school choice—and we’re excited to see her promote her preference to give families options for their children’s education. Competition is a rising tide that lifts all boats; there’s especially no reason for an unchallenged government monopoly for America’s low-income families.”

Teresa Mull ([email protected]) is a research fellow in education policy at The Heartland Institute.