Betsy DeVos inarguably challenges the status quo when it comes to education reform. While many politicians and American citizens alike were enraged when President-Elect Donald Trump announced the multi-billionaire as his pick for Secretary of Education, it was her confirmation hearing that set so many over the edge.
DeVos, a Republican, and an advocate of school choice, voucher programs, and Reformed Christianity, has been overwhelmingly criticized due to her lack of qualifications in the educational department. She has never been a teacher, nor does she have any experience in college financial aid or management of higher education.
During her confirmation hearing, members of the senate were unapologetic in the ferocity of their questions, openly suggesting that she was not qualified to lead the Department of Education, which would leave her responsible for roughly 4,400 employees and a $68 billion budget.
U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine, a Virginia Democrat and Hillary Clinton’s former running mate, asked DeVos if she believed that all schools that received taxpayer dollars should be required to adhere to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), a federally mandated piece of legislation that requires that all students with disabilities receive a high-quality, free public education just as every other American child is entitled to.
IDEA covers all children with physical or developmental disabilities, including learning disabilities. While students with learning disabilities were often left in the dark prior to the implementation of IDEA, now, 96% of parents believe that their children can learn just as well as other students if given access to the proper teaching tools.
In her response, DeVos said that she believes that the handling of students with disabilities is a matter that is better left up to individual states.
“So some states might be good to kids with disabilities and other states might not be so good and then what, people can just move around the country if they don’t like how their kids are being treated?” Kaine responded.
Again, DeVos said that the matter should be left up to the states.
Sen. Maggie Hassan, a Democrat from New Hampshire and mother of a son with cerebral palsy, followed up on Sen. Kaine’s questioning.
“That’s a federal civil rights law,” Hassan said, referring to IDEA. “So do you stand by your statement a few minutes ago that it should be up to the states whether to follow it?”
DeVos acknowledged that she may have confused the structure of IDEA, namely as federal law.
Hassan told DeVos that if confirmed as the Secretary of Education, she suggests becoming familiar with the law. She also criticized DeVos’s support of education vouchers, which counters the idea that public education is a community effort.
“And with all due respect, it’s not about sensitivity, although that helps,” Hassan said. “It’s about being willing to enforce the law to make sure that my child and every child has the same access to public education, high quality of public education.”