Following weeks of delays, hearings and committee voting, Betsy DeVos, Michigan native and education activist, was confirmed by the U.S. Senate Tuesday afternoon as secretary of education with an unprecedented tie-breaking vote cast of 51-50 by Vice President Mike Pence.
Despite Sens. Susan Collins’ (R–Maine) and Lisa Murkowski’s (R–Alaska) votes against DeVos, Pence’s vote narrowly swung the tally in the Michigan native’s favor.
DeVos said being named as secretary of education was an honor, and said she looks “forward to fighting for quality education for all students.”
DeVos drew heavy criticism before her confirmation for having little experience with the public school system. During her confirmation hearing, Sen. Tim Kaine (D–Va.) asked DeVos whether or not all public schools should have to follow the requirements of the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, such as providing special education. DeVos said the issue was “best left to the states.”
President Donald Trump said the Senate Democrats protest was to keep a “failed status quo,” and said DeVos is “a reformer.”
Sen. Lamar Alexander (R–Tenn.), chairman of the Senate Committee on Health Education Labor and Pensions, which approved DeVos’s nomination, criticized Democrats who didn’t confirm DeVos, and was tweeting his support of the candidate up until the vote.
DeVos favors school of choice through charter schools and vouchers, allowing users to pay for private school tuition with taxpayer money. Alexander said DeVos has been “at the forefront” of education reform for decades.
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I–Vt.), who has been among DeVos’s most vocal critics, rallied for at least one more Republican senator to vote against DeVos, but to no avail.
With DeVos now officially settled in the Cabinet, she can start working on Trump’s education agenda, which is expected to focus on crafting voucher plans for low-income families through a $20 billion initiative.
DeVos wishes to deregulate charter schools nationally, like she did in Michigan, where charter schools are the least regulated in the country, with 80 percent of them being privately operated. Whether or not she follows through with her agenda will be a major talking point during the Trump administration’s first 100 days and beyond.