Betsy DeVos was confirmed as President Donald Trump’s education secretary Tuesday, Feb. 7, 2017, by the Senate when Vice President Mike Pence cast the deciding vote to break a 50-50 tie.
The president praised DeVos on Twitter as “a reformer, and she is going to be a great Education Sec. for our kids!" But DeVos has been criticized and even ridiculed for her stumbles and confusion during her confirmation hearing.
Here are 10 things to know about DeVos.
Charter school advocate, billionaire Republican donor
DeVos, 59, is a billionaire Republican donor from Michigan who has spent more than two decades advocating for charter schools in her state and around the country, and has promoted conservative religious values. She is married to Dick DeVos, heir to the Amway marketing fortune.
Above, DeVos stands with President-elect Donald Trump at the Trump National Golf Club Bedminster clubhouse in Bedminster, N.J., on Nov. 19, 2016.
Mike Pence's historic, deciding vote
Vice President Mike Pence’s vote to secure DeVos’ confirmation was the first ever by a vice president to break a tie on a Cabinet nomination, according to the Senate historian. Pence called it "the easiest vote I ever cast." Two Republicans voted against DeVos — Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, who fear that her focus on charter schools will undermine remote public schools in their states.
DeVos’ nomination battle was the most divisive one in the Department of Education’s history, experts say.
Above, Pence arrives at the Senate on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday, Feb. 7, 2017.
The Dick and Betsy DeVos Foundation
The DeVos family donated $104 million in 2015 alone, Forbes reported. They have five family foundations, including the Dick and Betsy DeVos Foundation, according to MLive.com. One project that reflects DeVos’ educational philosophy is West Michigan Aviation Academy (seen above, in Grand Rapids), which was started in 2010 and has grown to serve 600 students from seven counties. DeVos and her husband gave more than $7 million to the school through 2014, according to family foundation tax records.
DeVos' priorities on the job
DeVos said at her confirmation hearing that she will seek to address rising higher education costs and massive student debt, and advance trade and vocational schools and community colleges. She’s also said that she would divest herself from organizations pushing for charter schools.
Her opponents noted that she has no experience running public schools. Under questioning from Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.), DeVos acknowledged that neither she nor her children attended a K-12 public school. DeVos said she hasn’t taught in a public school, but she has mentored in one.
Above, Brooklyn College students walk between classes on campus on Feb. 1, 2017.
Protecting schools 'from potential grizzlies'
Discussing a tiny elementary school in Wyoming during her committee confirmation hearing, DeVos said, “I would imagine that there’s probably a gun in the school to protect from potential grizzlies.” Her remark that schools should have guns on campus to protect against the bears has been widely ridiculed – that would violate federal law. However, the school in Wapiti, Wyoming, does has a tall fence to keep grizzly bears off the playground.
Praise from former education secretary Lamar Alexander
Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) – a former education secretary – praised DeVos’ work in reforming the school system through charter schools. He said she will seek to diminish federal control over education and give more power to states and communities. "We will be swapping a national school board for what she believes in, which is a local school board," said Alexander, who is the chairman of the Senate’s education committee.
DeVos on Common Core
On the same day she was named as Trump’s pick to lead the Department of Education, DeVos faced a backlash from some conservatives who warned that she had previously supported the Common Core education standards. “To clarify, I am not a supporter — period,” she tweeted that day, on Nov. 23, 2016.
DeVos said on her website that the higher standards supported by governors made sense at first but "got turned into a federalized boondoggle."
“Have organizations that I have been a part of supported Common Core? Of course,” DeVos wrote. “But that’s not my position.”
Democratic senator: 'Betsy DeVos is committed to privatizing public schools'
On the flip side, DeVos has been fiercely criticized by labor unions for promoting school choice, and Democrats and teachers’ groups have accused her of seeking to dismantle public education. "Betsy DeVos is committed to privatizing public schools, and diverting public funds into private taxpayer-funded vouchers that would leave far too many students behind,” said Sen. Patty Murray of Washington, the senior Democrat on the committee.
Above, teachers and educators stand against DeVos outside the Bay Shore Classroom Teachers Association headquarters on Third Avenue on Jan. 19, 2017. About 80 Long Island teachers and labor activists rallied against DeVos as part of "A National Day of Action."
DeVos on IDEA: 'I may have confused it'
DeVos seemed unfamiliar with the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act when Sen. Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.) asked about it at the confirmation hearing. When Hassan followed up to ask DeVos if she was unaware that the IDEA was a federal law, DeVos replied, “I may have confused it.” The federal law requires a "free and appropriate public education" for disabled students.
Betsy DeVos in brief
Quote of note, from her Senate committee testimony: "The vast majority of students in this country will continue to attend public schools. If confirmed, I will be a strong advocate for great public schools. But, if a school is troubled, or unsafe, or not a good fit for a child – perhaps they have a special need that is going unmet – we should support a parent’s right to enroll their child in a high quality alternative."