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Democratic Senators Tag-Team Betsy DeVos Over Ethics Concerns

By Andrew Ujifusa — June 01, 2017 2 min read
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U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos hasn’t appeared publicly before the Senate education committee since her confirmation hearing in January—but two Democratic senators made it clear Wednesday that they haven’t forgotten about her.

In a letter to the Education Department’s designated ethics official, Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., expressed her concern about DeVos’ speech last week to the American Federation for Children, the school choice advocacy group DeVos used to lead until she became secretary. Specifically, Murray (the committee’s top Democrat) questioned why DeVos spoke at the group’s event in Indianapolis when DeVos had agreed to recuse herself from activities connected with the AFC, among others, for one year unless given permission to do so otherwise. The secretary agreed to do so in an ethics agreement from earlier this year.

“The Secretary of Education should be committed first and foremost to our students, and I am concerned Secretary DeVos is prioritizing her ideological agenda over complying with conflict of interest rules,” Murray wrote to Marcella Goodridge-Keiller.

DeVos used the speech to promote school choice and said it would be a “terrible mistake” for states not to take advantage of federal proposals (released the next day) to expand choice.

Before the speech, Politico reported that Goodridge-Keiller had cleared DeVos to make the speech at the AFC’s conference. But Murray said she still wanted to know the details of how exactly DeVos got clearance from the department to give the speech. She also asked Goodridge-Keiller if DeVos has received other waivers from the ethics agreement.

Meanwhile, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., announced the launch of “DeVos Watch” at her Senate website. The goal, she said in a video released Wednesday, is “to hold Secretary DeVos’ Department of Education accountable to the public.” The project will track “oversight actions” involving DeVos. (Warren is also a member of the Senate education committee.)

Much of the project seems to be devoted to higher education, and specifically Warren’s concerns about conflicts of interests among top department officials. However, Warren did call out Robert Eitel, a senior adviser to DeVos who is leading a review of K-12 regulations put in place before President Donald Trump took office. Before joining the department, Eitel worked at Bridgeport Education, which runs for-profit universities. You can watch Warren discuss “DeVos Watch” in a video below:

And read Murray’s letter to Goodridge-Keiller about the secretary’s AFC speech.

Image: Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., speaks in a YouTube video announcing the start of “DeVos Watch” to track ethics concerns about Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos.

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