Senate confirmation hearings are rarely treated like must-watch TV, but Betsy DeVos‘ late-night hearing attracted more attention than anyone expected.
DeVos, a billionaire businesswoman with no professional experience or qualifications as an educator, is Donald Trump‘s pick for Secretary of Education. As a conservative activist, she supports for-profit schools, home education, and voucher programs to help low-income families send their children to private schools.
DeVos’ confirmation hearing before the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, which took place on Tuesday evening, gave Democrats a chance to reveal some worrying gaps in her knowledge of basic education policy—and some controversial opinions on topics like gun control in public schools.
Betsy DeVos does not believe guns should be banned in schools
Quizzed by Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), who made headlines with his 15-hour gun control filibuster last year, DeVos refused to support the idea of gun-free school zones. She suggested some schools might benefit from keeping a gun on campus, for defense against grizzly bears.
Sen. Chris Murphy invites Betsy DeVos to come to Connecticut, the site of Newtown, to share her views about guns in schools. pic.twitter.com/O2m7kcVEbL— Keith Boykin (@keithboykin) January 18, 2017
There are more than 300 million guns in the U.S., and according to the Gun Violence Archive, 385 mass shootings took place in 2016. Since there are only 1,000 grizzly bears in the continental U.S., the chance of a bear attack seems pretty minimal by comparison.
DeVos has no personal experience with student loans
Sen. Elizabeth Warren finds Betsy DeVos has no experience managing student loan programs, never took out a loan & never had a child who did. pic.twitter.com/nuhGMYAebm— Keith Boykin (@keithboykin) January 18, 2017
DeVos did not recognize a federal act protecting students with disabilities
The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) ensures that students with disabilities will not be treated unfairly by education providers. DeVos did not appear to understand what it was.
Stunning: Maggie Hassan (who has a disabled son) realizes that DeVos doesn't know the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act exists. pic.twitter.com/ht2dK9iqL8— Matt McDermott (@mattmfm) January 18, 2017
DeVos doesn’t understand the education debate about growth vs. proficiency
Sen. Al Franken‘s (D-Minn.) “proficiency vs. growth” question requires some background knowledge of education terminology but will be familiar to educators across the U.S.
Franken asked if DeVos supports the idea of schools being measured by student proficiency (i.e. whether they meet a goal set by standardized tests, such as reading at a certain grade level) or growth, which is based on the students’ individual progress. This is an ongoing debate in the world of teaching and education policy, and DeVos clearly did not know what Franken was talking about.
The DeVos family donated millions to the GOP
Speaking to Sen. Bernie Sanders (D-Vt.), DeVos confirmed that she and her family had donated around $200 million to the GOP.
DeVos avoided a series of yes/no questions about public schools
During a series of questions from Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.), DeVos refused to say whether all schools that receive federal funding should follow federal education guidelines. This leaves the door open for a double standard between public schools and for-profit institutions that receive public funding or benefit from voucher programs.
DeVos is the first of Donald Trump’s cabinet picks to receive a confirmation hearing without completing an ethics review, raising questions about potential conflicts of interest regarding her investments in a student loan company and a chain of for-profit online charter schools.
A vote on DeVos is currently scheduled for Jan. 24.