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11 Stand-Out Moments from Betsy DeVos Hearing

Last night, the Senate’s Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee convened to consider Betsy DeVos for the position of Education Secretary in President-elect Donald Trump's cabinet.

The over three-hour hearing exemplified just how divisive DeVos' nomination is; senators squabbled frequently throughout the process and many expressed frustration over not having more time to question DeVos further.

You need not worry about watching all three hours of the hearing to get you up to speed; here are 11 stand-out moments that will fill you in just fine.

1. DeVos Fumbles on Committing to Not Privatizing Education

Minority leader Sen. Patty Murray (D-Washington) was the most vocal throughout the hearing about her disappointment in not being able to ask DeVos more questions.

For the questions she did ask, Murray did not hold back. In her first round of questions, Murray addressed concerns that DeVos will harm U.S. public schools by privatizing education; Murray directly asked DeVos to commit to not privatizing education.

While DeVos could commit to other things Murray asked of her, like forgoing conflicting education investments and political contributions, she could not commit to not privatizing education.

Instead, DeVos said: "Senator, thanks for that question. I look forward, if confirmed, to working with you to talk about how we address the needs of all parents and all students."

2. DeVos Will Not Commit to Universally Affordable Child Care

Sen. Bernie Sanders (D-Vermont) used his time to question DeVos about her sizable wealth in comparison to the average American who struggles to make ends meet. Sanders asked DeVos what her plans are to help the working mother who finds the price of child care to be impossible to afford.

DeVos expressed sympathy for the hypothetical mom, but when Sanders asked:

"Countries around the world provide...free child care. Would you work with me in moving our government in that direction?"

DeVos declined specifically to commit to working towards universally affordable child care as orchestrated by the federal government.

3. DeVos Answers Questions About Charter Schools in Michigan

DeVos was asked by Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colorado) about what she's learned from overseeing charter schools in her home state of Michigan.

"What have you learned about failures about Detroit charter schools that has informed your decision making?" Bennet asked.

DeVos responded by claiming much of the existing information about charter schools in Michigan is "false news."

She also claimed that there is a lot going right in the charter school movement in her home state and did not address specific concerns that suggest otherwise.

4. Alexander Criticizes DeVos Critics for Not Being 'Mainstream'

In his opening statement, committee leader Lamar Alexander (R-Tennessee) provided a strong endorsement for DeVos by accusing her critics of not being in-line with the mainstream public's needs and wants.

"Betsy DeVos, in my opinion, is on our children's side...I believe she's in the mainstream of public opinion and her critics are not," Alexander said.

He also rebuked the criticism surrounding DeVos' support of school choice, asking "would her critics be happier if she had spent her time and her money trying to deny children more choices of schools that wealthy families already have?"

5. DeVos Says Guns in Schools is a Local Decision

Throughout the hearing, DeVos spent a lot of time clarifying that she believes many education issues should be left up to state and local communities versus the federal government. One of those issues is whether guns should be allowed in schools.

President-elect Donald Trump famously said while campaigning that he would outlaw gun-free zones in schools on his first day in office; Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Connecticut) asked her about whether she supported this decision or not.

In what is being considered DeVos' biggest fumble, she tried to explain the diverse needs of different schools by arguing that a school in Wyoming might need to have access to guns in the school building to fend off "Grizzlies." DeVos was referencing a story told to her by Sen. Mike Enzi (R-Wyoming) about an elementary school that installed a fence to protect its students and staff from bear and other wildlife attacks. All in all, DeVos reiterated that allowing guns in schools should be a decision that is left up to the states and districts.

6. DeVos is Tested on Proficiency vs. Growth Debate

When Sen. Al Franken (D-Minnesota) asked DeVos about her thoughts on the debate between proficiency and growth and how to best ensure students are college and career ready when leaving the K-12 system, DeVos seemed to have a hard time understanding what he meant.

"I think, if I’m understanding your question correctly around proficiency, I would also correlate it to competency and mastery, so that each student is measured according to the advancement they're making in each subject area," she said, leading Franken to retort: "It surprises me you don't know this issue...I think we're selling our kids short."

7. DeVos Briefly Touches on ESSA Implementation

While the country's new education legislation, the Every Student Succeeds Act, was not a focal point of the hearing as senators tried to cram questions into short allotments of time, DeVos did have one important thing to say on the subject:

She said she will implement ESSA as "Congress has intended it."

Given the fact that HELP members, specifically Alexander, have criticized current Education Secretary John B. King, Jr. for proposing regulations that "do not comply with the plain language of the statue and Congressional intent," DeVos' response would seem to indicate that she intends to have a much more reduced role in interpreting (or re-interpreting) the law.

8. DeVos Agrees to Accountability Standards, but Not Equal Ones

When asked about accountability standards for all schools that receive federal funding, DeVos agreed that they all must be held to certain standards. When asked if these standards should be equal, DeVos would not directly answer. This has raised some concerns for those who believe DeVos will not hold charter schools and the like to the same accountability standards as public schools despite providing both with equal federal funding.

9. DeVos Answers Questions About Special Education

Several senators used their time to figure out where DeVos stands on the education of special needs students.

When Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Virginia) asked DeVos about how she will ensure schools receiving federal funding comply with the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), she responded:

"I think that's a matter best left to the states."

When pressed later by Maggie Hassan (D-New Hampshire), DeVos walked back from her earlier statement, saying "federal law must be followed where federal dollars are in play." However, her initial confusion about IDEA and its status as a federal law has left many special education advocates concerned.

10. DeVos Supports Career and Technical Education (CTE)

Early on in the hearing, DeVos expressed support for providing students with many options for experiencing success after graduation.

To do so, DeVos suggested the strengthening of CTE programs throughout the country's districts.

"Craftsmanship is not a fallback but a noble pursuit...we need to support all post-secondary avenues," she said.

11. DeVos Describes Her Vision

Throughout the hearing, DeVos stood firm in her belief that providing families and students with school choice is the best way for education in the U.S. to improve.

She, at one point, described her vision for how education might look after Trump's presidency:

"Our children will have the opportunity to go to schools 10 years from now that look very different from what exists today," she said.

According to DeVos, these schools will address the needs of all students learning, serving as differentiated buildings instead of just differentiated subjects and classrooms. DeVos also spoke about on several occasions students she has worked with who have benefited from school choice.

"I would love to talk about...individuals I have seen benefit from success of being able to choose...right educational setting," she said.

 

Nicole Gorman, Senior Education World Contributor

 

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