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Betsy DeVos Offers No Guarantee That She Will Enforce Fed Ed Law– Or That She Even Knows the Law

January 21, 2017

On Thursday, January 17, 2017, Michigan billionaire Betsy DeVos had her first job interview– as US secretary of education.

DeVos, who turned 59 on January 08, 2017, has never held a job; however, given the current Republican majority in Congress, that doesn’t really matter; DeVos has a solid history as a Republican Party leader and financial booster.

Plus, she eats and breathes school choice, especially in the form of vouchers– school choice that takes public money from traditional public schools and hands it over to private schools.

President Donald Trump has indicated that he wants to voucherize American public education, and DeVos, though Trump’s second choice for US ed sec, is a perfect fit for the job of destroying the very public education system she is supposed to oversee.

“Portability of funding” is the technical name for such destruction, and Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pension (HELP) Chair, Lamar Alexander, is overjoyed that DeVos is willing to dole out the federal, “portability funding” vouchers to states that will undoubtedly follow the breadcrumbs of federal money for vouchers right into the trap of state-level public ed voucherization.

Thus, it should come as little surprise that DeVos apparently felt no need to prepare for a confirmation hearing in which she would be expected to demonstrate knowledge of the very federal ed law that she would be expected to enforce as chief fed ed public servant.

As far as DeVos was concerned, the Republican majority votes were already cast. Why do the homework when the final grade has already been entered in the proverbial grade book?

No reason– except that the grilling by Democratic members of the Senate HELP Committee unquestionably revealed DeVos’ profound ignorance of fed ed law and reinforced the idea that she has lived her entire almost-60 years in a Michigan-Republican-Reformed-Church bubble.

As the January 18, 2017, New York Times reporter Kate Zernike reports:

[DeVos’] confirmation hearing that night (January 17) opened her up to new criticism: that her long battle for school choice, controversial as it has been, is the sum total of her experience and understanding of education policy. In questioning by senators, she seemed either unaware or unsupportive of the longstanding policies and functions of the department she is in line to lead… [Emphasis added.]

Zernike continues with what has been broadcast all over the news since the 3 1/2-hour DeVos confirmation hearing:

  • DeVos had no clue that the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) was federal law. She could have easily found it on Wikipedia.
  • What is additionally astounding is that she said it was up to the states to decide to follow this federal law put in place so that America’s most vulnerable citizens might not be slighted or even abused when it comes to their “free, appropriate public educations.”

In other words, not only did DeVos know that IDEA enforcement would be a part of her job as chief fed ed public servant; she outright stated that she did not plan to require states to follow the federal law.

Indeed, DeVos would not commit to guaranteeing that voucher schools would be allowed to require students to sign away their federal rights to (as Senator Maggie Hassan notes) “a high-quality education with their peers,” as noted in this 8-minute video clip:

More DeVos surprises:

  • DeVos also did not know the difference between growth and proficiency– basic student assessment ideas.
  • DeVos said that she would support Trump’s no-guns ban, which could bring guns into schools– which the entire world now knows could be useful in fighting grizzlies.

Below are 19 more minutes’ worth of clips from the DeVos hearing:

No matter how evasive or clueless DeVos’ responses were, she held onto her plastic smile and defaulted that she supported accountability” (not equal accountability for all schools receiving public money, though); and that she would either have to further look into an issue or defer to the states.

A commenter to the above Youtube video captured DeVos’ responses to Democratic Senate HELP members as follows:

“Mrs. DeVos, How will you eat a sandwich?”

“I look forward to looking at the bread and I’m looking forward to seeing what could be in between them, and then hopefully, making the sandwich. I look forward to working with others and discussing how to make the sandwich, looking forward.”

No problem. Final US ed sec grade is already in the grade book.

Even so, as James Hohmann notes in Washington Post’s “Daily 202,” Alexander is doing all that he can to ensure DeVos crosses the ed sec finish line, including scheduling her hearing at 5 p.m. to ensure limited news coverage. Too, he limited questioning to a single, 5-minute round and would not guarantee that committee members’ follow-up questions submitted to DeVos in writing would all be answered before the vote was to be held.

But her performance was so poor that Alexander’s obviously biased attempts to shield and rescue DeVos could haunt both her and him, as Hohmann states:

What’s so crazy about last night’s (Jan 17th’s) donnybrook is that it was wholly unnecessary. DeVos will get confirmed either way. All she had to do was not give any Republican member a reason to vote against her. Now, however, it appears that the Republicans think she’s in over her head and that they’re scared of what she might say if she was allowed to keep talking.

Because the committee is stocked with liberal celebrities like Sanders, Warren and Franken, the GOP stonewalling will go viral on YouTube. This will make it harder for DeVos to build bipartisan support for any of her initiatives after she’s sworn in.

In the long term, though, Alexander might have hurt his own reputation more than he helped DeVos’s confirmation prospects. He has always prided himself on being one of the adults in the room. He put the kibosh on an effort by his GOP colleagues a few years back to invoke the nuclear option, for example. Democratic members of the committee said last night after the hearing that they’ve begun to lose respect for Alexander. That could come back to haunt the chairman during future negotiations, markups, etc.

As it is, the Senate HELP Committee vote on DeVos has been postponed a week, from January 24, 2017, to January 31, 2017, to give committee members time to review DeVos’ ethics report.

DeVos has already agreed to divest in 102 companies and resign from 12 organizations.

Of course, this does not redeem her ignorance of federal education law and the unwillingness to agree to uphold it.

Lamar Alexander is behaving as though the DeVos grade is already in the grade book. He approves of her voucher-adulating agenda, and that is what matters to him and to the Republicans falling in line behind him.

Of course, the DeVos history of donating to Republicans sweetens an obedient lineup.

DeVos is behaving as though she just needs to bide her time a little while longer in order to land her first job ever–

US Secretary of Education Privatization.


We’ll see if public concern is enough to chip away at that for-sure DeVos vote.


Released July 2016– Book Three:

School Choice: The End of Public Education? 

school choice cover  (Click image to enlarge)

Schneider is a southern Louisiana native, career teacher, trained researcher, and author of both A Chronicle of Echoes: Who’s Who In the Implosion of American Public Education and Common Core Dilemma: Who Owns Our Schools?.

both books

Don’t care to buy from Amazon? Purchase my books from Powell’s City of Books instead.

  1. Abigail Shure permalink

    I am keeping an eye out for grizzlies in Newark, but I haven’t spotted any yet. It was my perhaps mistaken understanding that federal law takes precedence. Isn’t that in the Constitution somewhere? I am doing my best. Please take into consideration that I attended public schools K – 12.

  2. Christine Langhoff permalink

    There’s one business DeVos has said she won’t divest from, and it might explain why she doesn’t know – or pretends not to know – about IDEA. This business “cures” kids with special needs.

    “Neurocore, however, appears to be an investment that Ms. DeVos and her husband have a particular interest in.

    The company’s website claims impressive outcomes: for example, that 90 percent of people with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder report improvement and 76 percent ‘achieve a nonclinical status.’ But Neurocore has not published results in the peer-reviewed literature…

    On its website, Neurocore claims to use ‘data-driven, brain-based diagnostics and treatments’ to help children and adults. The company says it uses ‘data from quantitative electroencephalography’ to help diagnose problems and then treats them with ‘proven neurofeedback therapy.’

    Neurocore, which charges about $2,000 for a recommended treatment of 30 sessions, has a deal with Prosper Funding, an online lending platform, to provide financing to clients. Neurocore also says that some insurance plans may cover treatments.”

  3. Laura H. Chapman permalink

    “Alexander might have hurt his own reputation more than he helped DeVos’s confirmation prospects.”

    I agree. I think that all Republicans have made themselves at risk by accepting her incoheret, self-contradictory, and off-the- cuff answers to questions as if these are perfectly acceptable–add outright lies and non-disclosures.

    • The more the Republicans refuse to break with their “clan” and thus give a full support to any and all Trump nominees,the more likely their endorsement of self-interested, poorly-prepared candidates will come back to bite them.

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