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Betsy DeVos Clears First Vote to Become Secretary of Education

Still facing a wave of criticism, the appointee is headed for a full Senate vote.

By Elena Gooray


Betsy DeVos testifies during her confirmation hearing on January 17th, 2017. (Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Philanthropist and school choice advocate Betsy DeVos was approved today by a Senate panel to become secretary of education, pushing her appointment forward to the full Senate to make the final call. Devos’ nomination was passed in the special Senate committee 12 to 11, with support coming from all 12 Republican committee members and opposition from all 11 Democrats.

But her final confirmation remains up the air. Two Republican Senators said today that they aren’t committed to approving DeVos, meaning they could give Democrats two extra votes needed to block her nomination.

DeVos’ supporters have branded her a “bold reformer” interested in expanding opportunities for disadvantaged students through school choice programs, the Washington Post reported. But her opponents view those same programs—which give families public money to spend at schools of their choosing, including private institutions—as a threat to public education. DeVos has also concerned civil rights organizations over her past affiliation with groups advancing specific religious and anti-LGBT agendas, and over her waffling on the need to enforce a federal law requiring tailored educational services for students with disabilities.

As the Senate prepares to consider DeVos, questions about her qualifications persist. Here are some of the challenges raised to her candidacy since her Senate hearing earlier this month:

  • Plagiarism allegations:After the Senate hearing, Democrats on the Senate’s education committee submitted more than 800 additional questions for DeVos. Some of her answers appear to have lifted identical language from uncredited sources, including the head of the Department of Justice’s Office for Civil Rights under Barack Obama, the Washington Post reported, leading to plagiarism allegations. A White House education adviser called those allegations “a character assassination.”
  • Ethics review: Following a review of her financial assets, DeVos reached an agreement with government ethics officials to cut ties in 102 separate holdings that may present conflicts of interest in her role as secretary of education, Politico reports. For at least one company—Neurocore, which uses questionable science to offer brain training—DeVos has said she would step down from the board while maintaining a stake.
  • Public school teacher resistance:Thousands of public school teachers have joined in organized opposition to DeVos, contending that her appointment would harm public schools as well as special education. The Friends of Betsy DeVos group has highlighted her support from Republican governors as well as from Democrats such as former Washington, D.C., mayor Anthony Williams and Success Academy Charter Schools founder Eva Moskowitz, Inside Higher Edreported.