by Félix Pérez
The full Senate is expected to vote on the nomination of Betsy DeVos for secretary of education as early as Monday, but the defection of two Republicans has put the political mega-donor and school privatization proponent’s fate in jeopardy.
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DeVos’ support among educators and public school advocates — especially from her home state of Michigan — was anemic to begin with. But her stumbling and confused responses at her Senate education committee hearing left Republicans, Democrats and Independents alike seriously doubting her qualifications for the job of overseeing the nation’s public schools.
The DeVos camp has been on a full-court press since then to ram the confirmation through and limit DeVos’s public availability. The opposition, however, has only grown stronger and more persistent. Reports of crashed Senate phone lines and full voice mail boxes, as well as spontaneous protests across the nation, are becoming more frequent.
As a result of the avalanche of public opposition, two Republican senators, Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, have announced they will vote against DeVos. That means if the vote were held today, it would b 50-50, leaving Vice President Mike Pence to cast the tie-breaking vote.
“Educators, parents and students are grateful to senators Collins and Murkowski for joining the bipartisan chorus of voices speaking out against the nomination of Betsy DeVos, because she has demonstrated that she is dangerously unqualified to run our public schools. They join millions of voters calling on the senate through emails, calls, visits and social media to reject her nomination and protect the interests of the millions of students in our country. The nation is speaking out … senators need to listen,” said Utah elementary school teacher and National Education Association President Lily Eskelsen García.
DeVos, the primary force behind a failed and underperforming charter school system in Michigan, left even her supporters scratching their heads with her rambling answers at her Senate hearing. She said she was “confused” about the federal law for students with disabilities, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. She could not articulate the difference between student growth and student proficiency. She refused to commit to enforcing the rights of students with disabilities in voucher and charter schools. And she would not pledge not to cut public school funding in order to fund vouchers.
After the hearing, matters took another turn for the worse when it was revealed DeVos may have plagiarized some of her written responses to her Senate questionnaire. In those same written responses, DeVos grossly inflated graduation rates at a Nevada web-based school that was almost shut down last year.