What We Learned in the DeVos Hearing: She’s Unfit for Office

Tuesday night, the Senate HELP Committee held a sham hearing on Betsy DeVos, Trump’s pick to head the U.S. Department of Education. Despite repeated requests from Members to allow more time for questioning, Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-TN) only allowed five minutes of questioning for each Senator. DeVos for her part spent much of that time dancing around easy yes/no questions. And when Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT) asked her to stick around for more questions, she basically said she’d have to get permission from the Chairman.

Despite the pettiness of Sen. Alexander, members were able to expose just how unfit DeVos is to be secretary. Here are just five disqualifying moments from the hearing.

1. DeVos says public charter schools and private schools should be held to a different standard from public schools.

This isn’t too surprising. After all, this is the same person who spent $1.45 million in just seven weeks to defeat a law that would have allowed for commonsense oversight of Michigan charter schools, including blocking a provision that would have stopped failing charters from expanding. But it sure was hard to get her on the record admitting this during the hearing. I’ll just copy/paste her exchange with Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA) to give a little flavor of how much of the hearing went and why it was such a travesty to not allow time for more questioning.

Kaine: “If confirmed will you insist upon equal accountability in any K-12 school or educational program that receives taxpayer funding whether public, public charter or private?”
DeVos: “I support accountability.”
Kaine: “Equal accountability?”
DeVos: “I support accountability.”
Kaine: “Is that a yes or a no?”
DeVos: “I support accountability.”
Kaine: “Do you not want to answer my question?”
DeVos: “I support accountability.”
Kaine: “Let me ask you this. I think all schools that receive taxpayer funding should be equally accountable. Do you agree?”
DeVos: “Well they don’t, they are not today.”
Kaine: “Well, I think they should. Do you agree with me?
DeVos: “Well no . . . ”
Kaine: “You don’t agree with me.”

DeVos’ opposition to commonsense oversight of charters is outside of the mainstream of even charter school advocates. And it’s dangerous for our nation’s schoolchildren. Her stance that charters and private schools that get federal funds should play by different rules from traditional public schools is all the more scarier when you realize that she also wouldn’t commit to not privatizing public schools. Betsy DeVos’ vision for education is students and parents having the “choice” between underfunded public schools or a charter/ private school that may be failing due to a lack of accountability and civil rights protections.

2. DeVos said committing to preserving Title IX sexual assault guidance would be “premature.”

We already knew going into the hearing that DeVos’ foundation had donated to organizations that favor rolling back Title IX processes to address sexual assault and the nominee has talked to legislators about “reining in” the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights. But during the hearing, she doubled down on her record by saying she wanted to consider harm to alleged perpetrators before deciding whether to keep Title IX guidance that says how schools should address sexual assault in an equitable way.

Let me be clear here, the 2011 guidance on sexual assault was largely a restatement of guidance issued in 2001 under the Bush administration, which was a restatement of 1997 guidance from the Clinton administration. The main difference—and point of contention for men’s rights activists—is that the 2011 guidance said schools must base sanctions on the “preponderance of evidence” standard. That is, whether it’s more likely than not (at least 51% chance) that sexual misconduct occurred. This was already the standard 80% of schools used when the guidance was released and it is also the standard in civil trials and civil rights cases—because it’s the most equitable standard and puts both survivor and accused on the same playing field. If you’re 51% sure it’s going to rain today, you grab an umbrella, right?
But men’s rights groups want schools to use a higher standard, which is dangerous. If you wait until you’re 75% or 99% sure it’s going to rain, you’re probably going to get wet. Likewise, if you wait until you’re 75% or 99% sure to discipline anyone accused of sexual assault, you’re probably going to leave rapists unpunished and emboldened—putting survivors and other students at risk.

3. DeVos doesn’t oppose guns in schools.

Because bears. She’s apparently never heard of animal control.

4. DeVos is woefully ignorant of federal special education law.

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), which guarantees students with disabilities access to a “free and appropriate public education,” is a law that has existed in some form since 1975. As a federal law, schools that receive federal funding are obliged to follow it.
Yet, at several points in the hearing, DeVos showed that she either didn’t know about the IDEA, that as Secretary she’d be charged with enforcing it, or that as a federal law schools are required to follow it. When asked whether charter or private schools that receive federal funding should be required to follow the IDEA, DeVos repeatedly stated, “I think that is a matter that is best left to the state.” Only after Sen. Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.) pointed out that IDEA was a federal civil rights law that states must follow did DeVos change her tune.
When asked if she was aware that IDEA was a federal law earlier, DeVos responded, “I may have confused it.”

5. DeVos admitted to filing inaccurate paperwork with the IRS to dodge questions about her giving to anti-LGBTQ organizations.

The record already shows that DeVos has a history of supporting anti-LGBTQ organizations. The Dick & Betsy DeVos Foundation has donated to Focus on the Family, a group that supports conversion therapy and opposes policies aimed at curbing LGBT harassment in schools. What’s also been widely reported is that DeVos has been a Vice President of another foundation that has given millions to Focus on the Family: the Edgar & Elsa Prince Foundation, a charity set up in her mother’s name—a woman whom DeVos calls the “greatest educational influence in life.” Yet during the hearing, DeVos claimed to have no knowledge or involvement in the Prince Foundation—despite being listed as an officer of that organization in tax forms filed with the IRS. When confronted with this information, DeVos blamed it on a “clerical error.” Only problem is that this “clerical error” went on for 13 consecutive years, and paperwork to correct this “error” wasn’t filed until last week.

There’s much more that we don’t know about DeVos because of the abbreviated hearing. How will she ensure that English Language Learners have access to linguistically responsive education? Has her view on affirmative action evolved since she opposed it in Michigan? Will she protect undocumented students’ access to education? What will she do to ensure pregnant and parenting students have equal opportunities to learn and thrive? Will she preserve and enforce the Department’s 2010 and 2016 letters that made clear what schools must do to protect LGBTQ students from harassment and other forms of discrimination?
Does she even know these are issues in education that she would have to oversee as Secretary???
Chances are she doesn’t. And that’s why she should not be confirmed.

Call the Senate switchboard at (202) 224-3121 and tell your senator to #DumpDeVos.