After a 24-hour vigil held in the Senate that was dedicated to Democrat opposition and Vice President Mike Pence’s historic tiebreaking vote, Betsy DeVos was confirmed as Trump’s Secretary of Education on Feb. 7 at 12:29 p.m.
This was the first time a vice president was called to break a tie in the Senate, which held firm at 50-50 with two Republican defections who denounced DeVos.
The Republican Senators Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska deemed DeVos unfit for the position due to her support of school vouchers and charter schools: “I have serious concerns about a nominee to be secretary of education who has been so involved in one side of the equation…that she may be unaware of what actually is successful within the public schools, and also what is broken and how to fix them,” Murkowski said at the time she announced her disapproval.
However, those who voted in her favor asserted that DeVos is first and foremost committed to what is best for children. In a New York Times report, Republican Senator Lamar Alexander of Tennessee said that Democrats opposed the Secretary of Education simply due to her political affiliation.
On Feb. 10 several protestors prevented DeVos from entering Jefferson Middle School Academy. ABC 7 news reported that DeVos remained in her sport utility vehicle as she was heckled. One demonstrator threw a cardboard sign at her, while another yelled, “Go back! Shame, shame.” She eventually was escorted into the school and said, “It was really wonderful to visit this school, and I look forward to many visits of many great public schools.”
Brandon Geier, a freshman marine biology student at Monmouth, disagrees with the protestors’ method of demonstration, “I don’t understand the point of blocking her from going into the school. They have the right to peacefully protest, but it doesn’t seem like they are getting anywhere.”
Mayor Muriel Bowser of Washington also criticized the protestors, and encouraged DeVos’ visits. He tweeted, “D.C. has the fastest growing urban school district in America. We welcome @BetsyDeVos & anyone who wants to learn more about our schools.”
DeVos, though politically active, has little political experience, The Atlantic reported. She is a billionaire Republican donor with negligible experience in public education and has extensive history in supporting charter schools and school-vouchers. In her confirmation hearing, DeVos demonstrated a lack of knowledge about the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, which provides students with disabilities the same opportunities as other students. She also argued that a school in Wyoming should keep guns in school in the case of grizzly bears.
Associate Dean of the School of Political Science, Dr. Nancy Mezey, is concerned about DeVos’ qualifications for the job. She said, “She has had very little interaction with the public education system, and lacks insight in the organization she will be running.”
“She has donated an enormous amount of money to education programs that erode the public education system,” Mezey said. “So the question becomes what will become of public education?”
DeVos has never attended a public school, and neither has her children, according to the New York Times.
Sai Swaroop, a graduate student with a bachelor’s in management information Systems, similarly expressed concern for the new Secretary of State: “She has business background and I’m not sure that she is the right choice.” On her experience, he continued, “The secretary should have a very good idea of governmental policies and of politics, and I don’t think she is knowledgeable in these areas.”
According to the BBC, the American Civil Liberties Union cited DeVos’ work in Michigan as supporting for-profit schools without thinking about the negative consequences that traditional public schools will face as a result.
“As a sociologist, we think of education as the great equalizer,” continued Mezey. “Given DeVos’ background, she doesn’t seem likely to move toward that goal. Hopefully she will move us toward equality, not away from it.”