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Besty DeVos – U.S. Education Secretary

Wednesday, 1 March 2017

by Staff, Spaulding Law

History was made as Besty DeVos was confirmed by the Senate in a 50-50 tie (Republican senators Susan Collins (Maine) and Lisa Murkowski (Alaska) defected from the party line) broken by Vice President and President of the Senate, Mike Pence. This is the first time that a vice president has had to break a tie on a cabinet nomination. Until three years ago, a cabinet nominee had to be able to survive a filibuster which meant that they would need 60 votes for confirmation. Senator Reid led this movement to change the Senate rules to require only a simple majority vote for all nominees except for Supreme Court justices.

DeVos attended private schools Holland Christian High School and then Calvin College. A great deal of the opposition to DeVos as a nominee deals with the fact that she has only ever attended private schools. There is concern, specifically from teachers’ unions, that somebody who has never attended a public school or sent her own children to a public school will now assume the responsibility of implementing laws directly affecting the entire nation’s public schools. They also note their concern that she has not spent any time as an educator or in the educational system.

DeVos has degrees in business administration and political science and her experience is primarily related to business and politics with a special interest in education. DeVos is viewed as a proponent of charter schools and private education because she has been involved in several organizations that promote school vouchers (state-funded scholarships that help with tuition for private schools). These organizations include: American Federation for Children, Alliance for School Choice, All Children Matter, Children First America, American Education Reform Council, and Great Lakes Education Project.

DeVos is not without supporters. There is often new legislation or new standards being presented to public education to deal with perceived deficiencies in the current system (No Child Left Behind, Common Core, etc.) Supporters are arguing that an outsider may be exactly what is needed to shake up the existing system. Her advocates also argue that her support of vouchers is positive because treating education like a market place and opening up options to everyone will improve the quality of the education available.

Now that she has been confirmed, we will have to wait to see how her ideas will affect the status quo. Some of the issues she will be expected to tackle are: rising tuition, growing student debt, for-profit colleges, sexual assault, and freedom of speech on college campuses.

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