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GOP Senator Attacked for Casting Decisive Vote for Betsy DeVos. But Did She?

By Alyson Klein — August 27, 2018 2 min read
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U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos squeaked into office by the skin of her teeth about 18 months ago. Now one Republican senator who voted in favor of DeVos’s nomination is taking heat for it on the campaign trail.

Democrat Jane Raybould, a Lincoln City councilwoman who is running against Sen. Deb Fischer, R-Nebraska, attacked Fischer in a debate Monday for casting the “decisive” vote in favor of DeVos.

Raybould called DeVos a “grossly unqualified” secretary of education who would like to “siphon off millions of dollars of our hard earned tax-payer money for a private system” of charter schools and vouchers.

For her part, Fischer, a former school board member, reiterated her support for public education and her opposition to vouchers, which educators say wouldn’t work well in largely rural Nebraska. And she said that before she agreed to vote for DeVos, she asked the prospective secretary to say in writing that the federal government wouldn’t mandate charter schools and vouchers.

So has DeVos lived up to that promise? And was Fischer really the deciding vote in getting her over the finish line?

Here’s a quick fact check:

Who cast the deciding vote to approve DeVos? Technically, 51 people did.

DeVos was confirmed as secretary in February 2017, by a vote of 51-50. Vice President Mike Pence cast the tie-breaking vote in her favor, after two GOP senators, Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, opposed her.

For a hot minute, Fischer looked like a potential—and potentially decisive—vote againt DeVos. She represents a rural state that hasn’t embraced charter schools. She’s the daughter of a teacher, and former local school board member, who also served at one time as the president of the Nebraska chapter of the National School Boards Association. Finally, she was also one of the last senators to announce her support for DeVos, in part because of a standing practice of not publicly telegraphing her votes ahead of time on any topic.

But Fischer never gave any clear indication that she was seriously considering voting against DeVos. And it’s hard to say that Fischer—all by herself—was truly was the final vote in DeVos’ favor. Given the margin, that is true of every senator who voted to confirm DeVos.

Has DeVos lived up to her promise not to mandate choice? So far, DeVos hasn’t been able to get a big school choice initiative passed, much less mandated. She has pitched a new competitive, $1 billion competitive grant program for choice. Congress hasn’t gone along with it.

But there’s an argument to make that Raybould isn’t totally wrong that DeVos would like to “siphon” money from public schools to pay for private school vouchers. Both of the president’s budget requests included asks for new money for choice, while cutting programs that benefit public schools, such as funding for teacher training and after-school programs.

Photo: Education Secretary-designate Betsy DeVos testifies at her confirmation hearing before the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee on Jan. 17. (Carolyn Kaster/AP)

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