The Senate on Wednesday voted 50-48 to confirm Mick Zais, President Donald Trump’s nominee to be deputy secretary at the U.S. Department of Education.
Zais, the former state schools chief for South Carolina and a retired Army brigadier general, was nominated by Trump in early October. He shares Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos’ full-throated support for school choice, having championed legislation boosting charter schools and tax-credit scholarships while in South Carolina. He also opposed the Common Core State Standards
He had a controversial reputation in South Carolina—one former district superintendent described him as someone who was inefficient and isolated at the state education department, while a think tank president said he took a welcome no-nonsense approach.
Zais also served as the president of Newberry College in South Carolina. The Trump administration’s first choice for deputy secretary was Al Hubbard, a board member of the Lumina Foundation, but he withdrew because of complications over his financial interests.
Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., the chairman of the Senate education committee, bemoaned what he called the inexplicable delay by Democrats in getting a confirmation vote for Zais.
“There was no reason whatsoever to delay his confirmation this way. The nation is fortunate that someone of this caliber will serve as Deputy Secretary of Education,” Alexander said in a statement Wednesday.
But Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., said in a Senate floor speech Tuesday that her colleagues should reject Zais because he shared what she considers the same misguided views as DeVos. Democrats grilled Zais during his November confirmation hearing about his support for school choice, and a past remark to the press about the futility of spending money to educate 5-year-olds, among other things.
“He agrees with Secretary DeVos’ extreme privatization agenda to siphon taxpayer funds from public schools. He largely opposes the federal role in education and—like Secretary DeVos—seems to lack understanding of key issues important to public schools,” said Murray, the top Democrat on the Senate education committee, in prepared remarks.
Although the Senate recently confirmed Carlos G. Muñiz to serve as the Education Department’s top attorney, several other Trump nominees await confirmation.