The Senate education committee has scheduled a confirmation hearing for Betsy DeVos, President-elect Donald Trump’s pick to helm the education department, for Jan. 11.
DeVos, who has spent more than two decades advocating for charter schools and taxpayer-funded school vouchers, is one of eight Trump nominees that Democrats have singled out for additional scrutiny. Two of the others are Sen. Jeff Sessions, Trump’s pick for attorney general, and ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson, Trump’s pick for secretary of state.
DeVos’s hearing is scheduled to take place on the second day of Sessions’s scheduled two-day hearing with the Judiciary Committee and the same day that Tillerson is tentatively scheduled to face the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
A billionaire power broker and major Republican donor, DeVos has not held elected public office nor worked as an educator. She is likely to face questions about her advocacy track record, particularly in her home state of Michigan, where she played a key role in shaping a fast-growing charter-school sector that even many charter-school supporters criticize as lacking in oversight and quality. Senators also are likely to ask her about her support for using public money to pay tuition at private and religious schools — one of the most polarizing ideas in education.
But committee members also likely will use the confirmation to question DeVos about her views on a range of other Education Department subjects about which she has previously said little or nothing publicly. Those include her view of for-profit colleges, which have faced intense scrutiny under the Obama administration; her plans for implementing the new Every Student Succeeds Act; and her plans for the Office for Civil Rights, which is responsible for enforcing anti-discrimination laws in schools and which some Trump surrogates have said should be stripped of power.
DeVos has not yet responded to the committee’s questionnaires and requests for financial disclosures, according to an aide to Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), the education committee’s ranking member.
Many Republicans are hopeful that DeVos, an avowed conservative, will oversee a shrinking of the federal footprint in education. Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) previously said he hoped that she would “implement the new law fixing No Child Left Behind just as Congress wrote it, reversing the trend to a national school board and restoring to states, governors, school boards, teachers, and parents greater responsibility for improving education in their local communities.”
Murray has said that she will ask DeVos to explain her plans to expand early childhood education and address college affordability and student debt. Murray also said she will press DeVos on her views of campus sexual violence, which many colleges are now handling very differently under pressure from the Obama administration, and school bullying.
“Right now students, parents, teachers and school leaders across the country are demanding to know how his Secretary of Education will ensure the safety and respect of all students, of all backgrounds, all across this country — and I will be focused throughout this process on how his nominee intends to do just that,” Murray said in a statement in November, when Trump named DeVos as his nominee.