By: Brian McVicar
Federal lawmakers will get their first shot at grilling Grand Rapids’ Betsy DeVos when the prominent charter school advocate appears later this month before a senate committee for her confirmation hearing for U.S. Secretary of Education.
And there will likely be no shortage of tough questions.
Democrats have made no secret over their skepticism of the West Michigan native’s ability to effectively serve as the top-ranking education official in president-elect Donald Trump’s cabinet.
Among the likely questions: How will she implement the new federal K-12 education law, which covers everything from turning around failing schools to teacher evaluations? Will she seek to promote the use of public dollars to send students to private schools? And what steps will she take to improve college affordability?
“The Secretary’s actions can make a real difference in whether or not Americans can get a fair shot in reaching the American Dream,” Democratic U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who sits on the committee overseeing the confirmation hearing, wrote in a letter to DeVos.
“Given that you have virtually no experience with these important responsibilities, your testimony before the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions will be critical to assessing your readiness for the position.”
Experts say there’s limits to how much DeVos could impact state education policy
DeVos’ hearing was originally scheduled for today but was postponed until Jan. 17. A report by Politico indicated that Democrats pushed for the hearing to be rescheduled because DeVos’ “finances haven’t yet been cleared by ethics officials” and she had not “signed an agreement addressing possible conflicts of interest.”
Her education experience largely stems from years serving as a high profile school choice advocate. She has both founded and served on the boards of various school choice groups, and has a long history of contributing to like-minded groups and Republican candidates.
While Democrats have voiced significant opposition to DeVos, one prominent Republican on the panel that will oversee her hearing has given her significant praise.
“Betsy DeVos and I had a great meeting today, and she is going to make an excellent Secretary of Education,” Senate education committee Chairman Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn, said in a statement Tuesday.
“I’m looking forward to her hearing because I know she will impress the Senate with her passionate support for improving education for all children. I am fully confident that she will be swiftly confirmed by the full Senate.”
Two grassroots groups are urging five Republican Senators who sit on the Health, Education, Labor and Pension Committee to recuse themselves from the hearing because of contributions they’ve received from the DeVos family.
Those senators, according to End Citizens United and Every Voice, are: Bill Cassidy of Louisiana ($70,200), Tim Scott of South Carolina ($49,200), Todd Young of Indiana ($48,600), Lisa Murkowski of Alaska ($43,200), and Richard Burr of North Carolina ($43,200).