Despite a 24-hour effort by Senate Democrats to hold the floor in protest of DeVos’ confirmation, they were unable to convince another Republican to change his or her vote.
The Michigan native has been criticized for her lack of public school experience, which led Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D–N.Y.) to describe her as “uniquely unqualified,” a phrase originally coined by former President Barack Obama in reference to President Donald Trump.
Additionally, many Democrats, including Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D–Mich.), expressed concern about DeVos’ focus on charter schools, which have proved largely unsuccessful in Michigan.
“I am deeply disappointed that Senate Republicans confirmed Betsy DeVos to lead the Department of Education,” Stabenow wrote in a press release. “I’ve heard from an overwhelming number of Michigan families who have shared their strong concerns about her long record of pushing policies that have seriously undermined public education in Michigan and failed our children.”
Rep. Dan Kildee (D–Mich.) agreed with Stabenow, citing DeVos’ charter school experiment in Michigan as proving her plan unfit on a broader scale. Additionally, Kildee expressed doubt that DeVos was confirmed based on merit.
“Her failed experiment in Michigan pushing unregulated and unaccountable charter schools has led to terrible results for our children, who will bear the greatest burden of today’s vote,” wrote Kildee in a press release. “It’s also no coincidence that Betsy and the DeVos family have donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to many of the Republican Senators who just voted to give her this job.”
Republicans defend DeVos as being a true conservative who will change the status quo, which they see as having failed. Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette expressed support for her school of choice plans following her confirmation.
“For 28 years, Betsy DeVos has made it her mission to ensure children receive a quality education, and now she will be able to do that on a much larger scale,” Schuette wrote in a press release. “Secretary DeVos will be an excellent Secretary of Education, fixing our schools and at the same time providing children and families choices to find the school that fits their needs.”
Engineering freshman Lincoln Merrill, publicity chair of the University of Michigan’s chapter of College Republicans, agreed with Schuette, saying DeVos’ opposition to the Common Core and support for school of choice will hopefully keep American students from being outperformed internationally.
“We are living in a time when the status quo is being rejected left and right, and the matter of education is no different,” Merrill said. “America’s schools are failing the nation, and the country needs a new direction with fresh leadership in order to improve it.”
LSA junior Collin Kelly, president of the University’s chapter of College Democrats agreed that DeVos’s confirmation must be contextualized, but said he worries given the financial aid situation of many students, DeVos could bring negative consequences to many.
“Higher education is more important yet more expensive than ever. Thousands of students here — including me — rely on federal support to come here,” Kelly said. “We need an education secretary who will find ways to increase funding of our schools and universities, not take it away. We don’t think Betsy DeVos is someone who will put students first, above special interests and partisanship.”
Merrill pushed back against claims that DeVos will noticeably affect higher education immediately, considering that school of choice policies are targeted toward primary and secondary education.
“We don’t know yet how she will handle the rising student debt crisis that has been a real issue over the past eight years,” Merrill said. “One thing that may happen is regulations for universities will likely be scaled back, allowing universities to save costs by hiring fewer faculty and staff.”