Betsy DeVos as Secretary of Education would be a detriment to students
The Michigan native lacks the knowledge and experience required of an Education Secretary, and her family connections raise questions about potential conflicts of interest.
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Two weeks ago, the Senate Education Committee gathered for the confirmation hearing of President-Elect Trump’s pick for Secretary of Education: Betsy DeVos. The hearing sparked fierce debates after Devos repeatedly avoided questions regarding potential conflicts of interest and what she would do to change American education. While certainly not all of Trump’s cabinet picks are unqualified for their prospective positions, DeVos’ confirmation hearing raises so many doubts about her ability to be a competent Secretary of Education that she should not be confirmed by the Senate.
Let’s start with what DeVos was clear on during her hearing. As education secretary, she would work to expand the options parents have in where to send their kids to schools. She plans to do this through expanded use of voucher programs that would allow parents to use federal money to help pay tuition at a private school, and by increasing the amount of money allocated for charter schools.
Aside from that, her answers to the Committee’s questions leave considerable doubt as to what else she plans to do. She clumsily dodged questions about whether or not guns should be allowed on school property, and she also dodged questions from Sen Tim Kaine (D-VA) about whether or not she believed all schools receiving federal funds should be held equally accountable, which she only answered after the question was repeated five times.
In fact, there were many times where she seemed to lack basic knowledge that pertained directly to the position of Secretary of Education. She seemed to not understand the difference between student growth (how much students improve) and student proficiency (how many students meet a standard that marks them as “proficient”) when asked about her view on the two by Senator Al Franken (D-MN). The debate over whether to measure school success by how much students have improved or to measure success based on how many are proficient has been in question for years, and her lack of basic knowledge on the subject is troubling.
DeVos also got confused and attempted to argue that states should control regulations for schools that receive federal education funding, and would not answer questions regarding whether or not she would enforce federal regulations that provide protections to students with disabilities. Not only does DeVos seem to lack the knowledge of the education system and laws surrounding it, she does not seem to possess a clear plan of action on dealing with many of the problems American education currently faces.
Then comes the question of potential conflicts of interest. Since many of Trump’s cabinet members possess a plethora of different assets, business ties, and investments, ensuring prospective appointees are not beholden to anyone is crucial, and Ms. DeVos is no exception. While DeVos’ ethics review is not completed, many facts call into question her neutrality. She admitted in the hearing that, although she wasn’t sure of the exact amount, it was “quite possible” that her family has spent $200 million financing various conservative and Republican causes, making this appointment seem less about choosing who will be best for American education, and more about campaign donations (not that anyone should be surprised given current American politics).
The most concerning moment of the hearing came when Sen. Maggie Hassan (D-NH) asked whether or not DeVos was involved in any of these donations, which she denied, despite being listed on tax forms as the Vice President of her mother’s foundation for 23 years, which DeVos dismissed as a “clerical error”. Besides being big Republican donors, her family members also hold multiple investments that stand to either gain or lose based on decisions made by the department of education. All of this should make the Senate wary of confirming DeVos.
Finally, Betsy DeVos’ utter lack of experience in the field of education is alarming, and in and of itself should be a key reason why she shouldn’t be confirmed. In addition to never having attended a public school, DeVos’ work experience consists only of political fundraising and helping her husband manage their investment firm that mainly focuses on technology and energy, not education. The vast majority of former Secretaries of Education served as teachers, school superintendents, or state education commissioners before being tapped to head the Department of Education. It’s hard to believe that DeVos is equipped for America’s top education job when she has no experience working in education.
While I do applaud DeVos’ efforts to expand the choices parents have regarding where they send their kids to school, due to the fact that she has no experience in education, lacks basic knowledge about the field, and has many potential conflicts of interest, the Senate should look to find someone more qualified to preside over the education of America’s next generation.