Liberal filmmaker Michael Moore told the crowd assembled for the Women’s March on Washington Saturday that they should make their top priority opposing the confirmation of President Trump’s nominee to run the Education Department, Michigan billionaire Betsy DeVos.
“That’s day one,” Moore said. “Make it part of your daily routine.”
After a highly contentious Senate confirmation hearing Tuesday, during which she displayed a lack of understanding of basic education issues, DeVos is facing growing opposition to her nomination as President Trump’s education secretary — including from groups that largely support the same issues she does. And now she will have to wait longer than expected for the Senate education committee to decide on her confirmation: Shortly after her ethics review was made public Friday, Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), moved the vote back one week amid calls from Democrats for more time to vet her.
Opposition to DeVos’s nomination has been growing since her Jan. 17 Senate committee confirmation hearing, where, under tough questioning, she raised concerns among Democrats with her answers about special education funding, guns in schools, and her position on whether to continue the department’s aggressive stance against sexual assault. A handful of petitions have been gathering a mountain of signatures against her confirmation, including one by the social change organization CREDO, which has garnered more than 1 million — or, as of Friday night, 1,115,915 of its goal of 1,250,000. A petition on moveon.org has more than 30,000 signatures.
Alexander announced via statement late Friday that the committee vote originally scheduled for Tuesday, Jan. 24, will now be held on Tuesday, Jan, 31, so that panel members can probe a new agreement she made with the U.S. Office of Government Ethics detailing steps she agreed to take to avoid conflicts of interest. The newly released ethics documents say that DeVos agreed to get rid of interests she holds in more than 100 companies and that she has resigned positions with school choice advocacy groups.
But one of the telling things about the growing opposition to her nomination is that some choice advocates who are on the same school choice page as she is still don’t want her confirmed. Shavar Jeffries, the president of Democrats for Education Reform, a pro-school choice organization that has made political allies out of Republican choice proponents, issued a statement several days after the hearing saying in part:
“Outside of her commitment to parental choice, the hearing provided little insight on Mrs. DeVos’ vision for educating the 50 million American children who currently attend public schools. We are strong supporters of choice married with accountability, but as vital as parental choice is, choice alone is not an answer for ensuring the education of 50 million kids.“In sum, the hearing did little to clarify concerns that progressive reformers have about Mrs. DeVos’ policy commitment to strong accountability and a strong federal role spanning the scope of the Education Department’s work, from finance equity and teacher preparation to higher education and civil rights. We do hope that at some point Mrs. Devos will speak more expansively about her vision for all public schools and the federal role in ensuring our schools work for our kids. But based on the record before us, we cannot support her nomination.”
The Massachusetts Charter Public School Association sent a letter to Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) — who sits on the Senate education committee — expressing reservations about her nomination, saying in part:
Both President-elect Trump and Ms. DeVos are strong supporters of public charter schools, and we are hopeful they will continue the bipartisan efforts of the Clinton, Bush and Obama Administrations to promote the continued expansion of high quality charters while pursuing reforms that will strengthen traditional public schools.But we are concerned about media reports of Ms. DeVos’ support for school vouchers and her critical role in creating a charter system in her home state of Michigan that has been widely criticized for lax oversight and poor academic performance, and appears to be dominated by for-profit interests.
Meanwhile, the Los Angeles Times editorial board wrote in a scathing editorial:
Betsy DeVos’ love of private school vouchers didn’t disqualify her for the role of U.S. Education secretary, even though vouchers are a bad idea. Nor did her lack of experience in public schools.
What did render her unacceptable was her abysmal performance at her confirmation hearing Tuesday, during which she displayed an astonishing ignorance about basic education issues, an extraordinary lack of thoughtfulness about ongoing debates in the field and an unwillingness to respond to important questions.
She was so unprepared that she sounded like a schoolchild who hadn’t done her homework. Frankly, she embarrassed herself and should be rejected by the Senate or have her nomination withdrawn.
During an appearance Wednesday morning on “Fox & Friends,” Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway defended DeVos’s performance at her confirmation hearing and criticized Democrats for trying to score political points.
“This idea of humiliating and trying to embarrass qualified men and women who just wish to serve this nation is reprehensible, and not one child who needs a better education benefited from any of those incendiary questions yesterday, but of course Mrs. DeVos held herself with the grace and elegance that we know her to have,” Conway said.