Under any new Republican president, the public could have expected significant policy changes at the U.S. Education Department, which was run for seven of President Barack Obama’s eight years in office by his fellow Chicagoan Arne Duncan.
The department under Duncan put the controversial Common Core standards into effect and imposed an enormous expansion in the use of data to judge student and teacher performance.
On Tuesday at 5 p.m., Betsy DeVos of Michigan is due to face the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor & Pensions for her confirmation hearing as Donald Trump’s nominee for secretary of education.
School politics is partisan — at least on the national level — whether that’s a good thing or not.
Billionaire DeVos has had perhaps as high a profile in the Republican Party as American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten has had in the Democratic Party.
DeVos, 59, not only has chaired the GOP in her home state, but is a major donor, including to some lawmakers who will judge her nomination. The website OpenSecrets.org states that “since 1989, Betsy DeVos and her relatives have given at least $20.2 million to Republican candidates, party committees, PACs and super PACs.”
Her personal background leans corporate rather than public sector. Husband, Dick DeVos, the unsuccessful GOP nominee for Michigan governor in 2006, is the son of a co-founder of Amway, a well-known, multilevel marketing company that distributes various health and beauty products. And her brother Erik Prince founded the security firm formerly known as Blackwater.
One minor glitch in the confirmation process arose last week when it was discovered that DeVos omitted on a disclosure form a $125,000 political donation to a Michigan committee that beat back a state ballot initiative to beef up collective-bargaining rights. It was announced that the form was amended.
A key difference in her policy stances: She has publicly pushed for vouchers — which essentially means allowing parents to use tax funds for private-school tuition — and other measures that come under the conservative buzz-phrase “school choice.”
One big question is how much she may stick with basic Common Core provisions, whether by another name or not. Just like the question of which Obamacare provisions may survive in the new administration, all similarities and changes have yet to be detailed.