Your Education Road Map

Politics K-12®

ESSA. Congress. State chiefs. School spending. Elections. Education Week reporters keep watch on education policy and politics in the nation’s capital and in the states. Read more from this blog.


Here’s Why Betsy DeVos Will Likely Be Confirmed, Despite Pushback

By Alyson Klein — January 30, 2017 4 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

Betsy DeVos, President Donald Trump’s pick to lead the U.S. Department of Education, is at the center of a social media maelstrom and has stirred more opposition than any other candidate for secretary in the department’s more than three decade history. Over the past couple of weeks, educators and activists concerned about her appointment have made thousands of calls to congressional offices and organized a spate of protests in Washington D.C., DeVos’ hometown of Holland, Michigan, and elsewhere.

Still, she’ll probably be the next secretary of education. DeVos only needs Republican support to be confirmed. And the GOP controlls the U.S. Senate 52 to 48. That means, if all the Democrats vote against DeVos as expected, three senators would need to flip to defeat her. And that doesn’t look likely, for reasons we explain further below.

There may be an upside to DeVos as education secretary for Democrats, who have already started fundraising off the controversial nominee. More on that below.

How do we know DeVos is likely to get support from all or most Republicans? Just watch her confirmation hearing. The most-talked about parts, of course, are where DeVos appeared confused about federal special education laws, and when she suggested that schools might need guns as protection from “potential grizzlies.”

But the most important moments—in terms of DeVos’ prospects for confirmation—were her exchanges with the two moderate GOP senators most likely to vote against her, Sens. Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska. Both are from rural states that aren’t likely to be enthusiastic about vouchers.

Both Collins and Murkowski, however, seemed ready to back DeVos.

Collins told DeVos that she has “no doubt that you care deeply about the education of all children.” And Collins bristled at Sen. Bernie Sanders’, I- Vt., suggestion that DeVos was nominated primarily because of her status as a GOP mega-donor. “Given your life-long work and commitment to education” that suggestion was “really unfair and unwarranted” Collins said.

Collins pressed DeVos on whether states or the feds should be making decisions about vouchers and charter schools, and DeVos told her states should be in the driver’s seat.

Murkowksi, who is one of a handful of senators who received a campaign donation from DeVos but was also endorsed by the National Education Association in her re-election bid—was tougher on the secretary designate. Still, she seemed to be in DeVos’ corner.

Murkowski noted that some teachers in her state are worried that DeVos wouldn’t require public, private, and charter schools to meet the same accountability standards. But she quickly added that DeVos “gave very reassuring answers that you are not seeking to undermine or erode public schools.”

To be sure, DeVos needs every GOP vote she can get. If she’s confirmed, she will likely be the first education secretary without Democratic support. Sen Al Franken, D-Minn., a member of the Senate education committee told MSNBC that every Senate Democrat would vote against her confirmation.

And since the hearing, public education advocates have been turning up the pressure on Collins and Murkowski. The Andrew half of Politics K-12 tried calling Murkowski and Collins on Friday. The voicemail box and phone lines for Collins were all jammed up.

Murkowski, who is one of a handful of senators on the committee that have received campaign donations from DeVos, has also received numerous phone calls, although her office declined to say how many, or whether the Alaska senator was rethinking her stance. Murkowski also tweeted last week that her phone lines had been overwhelmed with callers from “the lower 48", making it difficult for Alaskans to weigh in.

On social media, DeVos opponents are also targeting Sen. Patrick Toomey, a Republican from Pennsylvania, who has called DeVos a “great pick”, despite opposition from teachers in his state.

And, in addition to an anti-DeVos demonstration across from the U.S. Capitol building Sunday, there were protests last week near the Nashville office of the education committee chairman, Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn. Alexander has been one of DeVos’ biggest champions. And numerous demonstrators told the Tennessean that Alexander’s voice-mail box was full, making it impossible for them to register complaints about DeVos.

DeVos has also gotten anti-endorsements from groups that don’t typically take positions on the secrtary of education, like the Education Trust and the National Association of Secondary School Principals.

At the same time, though, she’s gotten an outpouring of support from prominent Republicans, and even some Democrats, including former Sen. Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut. Expect Republicans to bring that up when they vote on her confirmation, likely next month.

A GOP Senate aide said Saturday that he expects DeVos will make it.

“This is all theater for the Dems to prove they are mad,” the aide said. The same aide had previously predicted that DeVos would be confirmed by mid-Februrary.

The Senate education committee is slated to vote on DeVos’ nomination Tuesday.

The silver lining for Democrats: DeVos as education secretary may not be all bad for her opponents. She has become so controversial that Democrats are now fundraising off of her nomination. In an email circulated this weekend, the re-election campaign of Sen. Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin—a state Trump unexpectedly won—asked for contributions of $5 or $10 to “strengthen opposition to [DeVos’] confirmation.” Baldwin is expected to face a tough re-election bid in 2018.

Follow us on Twitter at @PoliticsK12.

Related Tags:

Commenting has been disabled on effective Sept. 8. Please visit our FAQ section for more details. To get in touch with us visit our contact page, follow us on social media, or submit a Letter to the Editor.


This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Teaching Webinar
6 Key Trends in Teaching and Learning
As we enter the third school year affected by the pandemic—and a return to the classroom for many—we come better prepared, but questions remain. How will the last year impact teaching and learning this school
Content provided by Instructure
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Equity & Diversity Webinar
Evaluating Equity to Drive District-Wide Action this School Year
Educational leaders are charged with ensuring all students receive equitable access to a high-quality education. Yet equity is more than an action. It is a lens through which we continuously review instructional practices and student
Content provided by BetterLesson
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Student Well-Being Webinar
Attendance Awareness Month: The Research Behind Effective Interventions
More than a year has passed since American schools were abruptly closed to halt the spread of COVID-19. Many children have been out of regular school for most, or even all, of that time. Some
Content provided by AllHere

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Federal White House Launches Hispanic Education Initiative Led by Miguel Cardona
President Joe Biden said his administration intends to address the "systemic causes" of educational disparities faced by Hispanic students.
2 min read
Education Secretary Miguel Cardona writes down and draws positive affirmations on poster board with students during his visit to P.S. 5 Port Morris, a Bronx elementary school, Tuesday, Aug. 17, 2021 in New York.
U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona visits students in New York City at P.S. 5 Port Morris, a Bronx elementary school in the Bronx last month.
Brittainy Newman/AP
Federal Feds Add Florida to List of States Under Investigation Over Restrictions on Mask Mandates
The Education Department told the state Sept. 10 it will probe whether its mask rule is violating the rights of students with disabilities.
3 min read
Surrounded by lawmakers, Florida Gov.Ron DeSantis speaks at the end of a legislative session on April 30, 2021, in Tallahassee, Fla.
Surrounded by lawmakers, Florida Gov.Ron DeSantis speaks at the end of a legislative session on April 30, 2021, in Tallahassee, Fla.
Wilfredo Lee/AP
Federal How Biden Will Mandate Teacher Vaccines, Testing in Some States That Don't Require Them
President Joe Biden's COVID-19 plan will create new teacher vaccination and testing requirements in some states through worker safety rules.
4 min read
Nurse Sara Muela, left, administers the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine to educator Rebecca Titus at a vaccination site setup for teachers and school staff at the Berks County Intermediate Unit in Reading, Pa., on March 15, 2021.
Nurse Sara Muela administers a COVID-19 vaccine to educator Rebecca Titus at a vaccination site for at the Berks County Intermediate Unit in Reading, Pa.
Matt Rourke/AP
Federal Biden Pushes Schools to Expand COVID-19 Testing, Get More Teachers Vaccinated
President Joe Biden set teacher vaccine requirements for federally operated schools as part of a new effort to drive down COVID's spread.
7 min read
President Joe Biden speaks in the State Dining Room at the White House, Thursday, Sept. 9, 2021, in Washington. Biden is announcing sweeping new federal vaccine requirements affecting as many as 100 million Americans in an all-out effort to increase COVID-19 vaccinations and curb the surging delta variant.
President Joe Biden in a speech from the White House announces sweeping new federal vaccine requirements and other efforts in an renewed effort to stem the COVID-19 pandemic.
Andrew Harnik/AP