Despite weeks of protests from Democratic Senators and U.S. citizens, senators confirmed Betsy DeVos as Secretary of Education on Feb. 7.
Senate Democrats and Republicans tied their decision. As procedure calls, the Vice President provides the deciding vote, and Vice President Mike Pence voted in DeVos’ favor. After the Senators voted, Vice President Pence is the first Vice President in history to break a tie for a cabinet nomination.
The voting process took all night Monday, as each Democratic senator spoke about DeVos’ disqualifications for the position. The back-to-back speeches were an attempt to persuade Republicans to vote against DeVos. To their dismay, only two Republican senators switched their support. Accordingly, one more vote against DeVos would have stopped her confirmation.
Senators Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) voted against DeVos. Although DeVos has a track record of promoting charter schools and vouchers, they said she is unfamiliar with public schools and laws protecting students.
Thousands of voters voicing complaints about DeVos also influenced their decision. DeVos, nor her children, attended public school, and many feel that prevents her from understanding the system.
Sen. Murkowski said a one-sided education secretary concerns her.
“She may be unaware of what actually is successful within the public schools,” she explained. “Also, what is broken and how to fix them.
DeVos, 58, married into the Amway business — a multi-billion-dollar multi-level marketing business the Federal Trade Commission dubbed as an illegal pyramid scheme. DeVos’ brother, Erik Prince, founded the controversial security firm Blackwater. Five Blackwater security guards killed 17 unarmed Iraqi civilians in 2007, leading to their indictment.
Despite her past, many Republican senators felt she will be a good Secretary of Education. During her hearings, DeVos indicated she would work with her team to change education funding. One policy denies federal student aid money for colleges whose graduates can’t get jobs.
Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tennessee) said DeVos is “at the forefront” of education.
“She led the most effective public school reform movement over the last few years,” he said.
DeVos’ reform includes lobbying for school-choice voucher programs and tax-credit initiatives. While a part of the American Education Reform Council, she also sought to get federal funding for private and religious institutions.
However, during her hearings, Sen. DeVos did not provide details to her plans. When asked about the trillion-dollar student loan programs, DeVos said she will “work diligently,” but provided no ideas about how to improve or maintain the student loans programs, which includes the federal Pell grant.
New York University professor David Kirkland said DeVos could negatively impact public education.
“Her extensive conflicts of interest and record of diverting money away from vulnerable students and into the pockets of the rich make DeVos completely unfit for the position she was just confirmed to,” he said.
Groups say they will continue ensuring she stays on track for helping all those in education.