Today, the Senate confirmed Betsy DeVos as education secretary, but only with the help of a tiebreaking vote from Vice President Mike Pence–illustrating just how contentious this vote was.
The 51-to-50 vote made Ms. DeVos the education secretary to be steward of the nation’s schools, despite the fact that the wealthy donor from Michigan doesn’t actually have any public school experience. She mainly has experience with charter schools and vouchers, which is pretty different than public school–and any teacher can tell you that.
An interesting thing to note is that the two Republicans who voted against DeVos, Senators Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, are both women. This not only illustrates that some of Trump’s own party members are finding his actions alarming, but also the important of setting aside party loyalty as a whole if we want to preserve–and better–the country as a whole. In this case, we’re talking about our kids’ education, which is not something trivial–and will have ramifications for the years to come. At least these women get that.
This is the first time in American history that a vice president has been summoned to the Capitol to break a tie on a cabinet nomination, according to the New York Times. This basically means Trump’s pick clearly wasn’t a popular one, and DeVos only won because Pence made sure of it. That doesn’t speak too well of the entire situation as a whole.
Collins and Murkowski announced their opposition last week in separate speeches, citing that DeVos is unqualified because she’s not familiar with how public schools work. They also mentioned that they had been influenced by thousands of messages urging them not to nominate her.
It’s important to note that DeVos’ public support for charter schools and vouchers—which allow students to use taxpayer dollars to pay tuition at private, religious, and for-profit schools–completely shows how she hasn’t advocated for changing the public school system for the better. As the Times points out, neither Ms. DeVos nor any of her children attended a public school–and not surprisingly, she’s never taken out a federal student loan (considering she’s wealthy and married into the Amway family), which is ironic considering she will head the department that is the country’s largest provider of student loans.
Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, a union that protested the nomination, said the public would now have to “serve as a check and balance,” and went on to say:
“It’s telling that even when Trump had full control of the legislative and executive branches, he could only get DeVos confirmed by an unprecedented tiebreaking vote by his vice president. That’s because DeVos shows an antipathy for public schools, a full-throttled embrace of private, for-profit alternatives, and a lack of basic understanding of what children need to succeed in school.”
Education professor at New York University, David E. Kirkland, also has fears that her election will only mean public schools will lose the federal funding they need:
“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.”
This is one of those times where I don’t even know what to say, but only hope that our children aren’t the ones who suffer most–although I’m afraid that may just be wishful thinking. As a former teacher, this scares me–what about all the children with special needs and disabilities that rely on special programs and federal funding? Will their funds be cut because their education isn’t seen as important enough to fund? I hope not.