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Senate Panel Questions DeVos in Contentious Confirmation Hearing for Education Secretary

January 18, 2017

Congressional hearing


​Betsy DeVos, President-elect Donald Trump’s nominee to be the next secretary of education, appeared yesterday before the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee for her confirmation hearing, the focus of which was primarily her stance on K-12 education, especially the use of vouchers and her support for charter schools.

The nearly four-hour hearing was contentious at times, with Democrats complaining frequently about the five-minute limit per senator for a single round of questions and the fact that the Office of Government Ethics had not finished its review of DeVos’s financial investments for any possible conflicts of interest.

While DeVos, a billionaire philanthropist from Michigan, offered little clarity around her views on higher education, her responses to several questions did hint at what the agency’s higher education agenda might look like in the future, should she be confirmed.

DeVos raised the issue of college costs and affordability in her prepared remarks, but the only solution she offered was for more students to choose less expensive forms of postsecondary education, including career colleges, trade and vocational schools, and community colleges.

The other primary concern related to higher education that arose was government regulation. DeVos’s views in this area seem in line with the Republican majority, although she demurred when asked for specifics during the hearing. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) asked DeVos about enforcing the gainful employment rule—the effort to ensure that individuals who enroll in career training programs will earn enough money to repay their student loans—but DeVos would only say that she would review the rule to make sure it was achieving its intended goal.

Sen. Bob Casey (D-PA) asked DeVos if she would uphold the current federal guidelines used to fight sexual assault on college campuses, but she also avoided answering “yes” or “no” to this question. She said there were "a lot of conflicting ideas" about how to enforce the rules under Title IX, which prohibits gender discrimination in education, and that she looked forward to working with the committee to understand those conflicts and find resolutions.

Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN), who chairs the committee, said it would meet early next week to consider DeVos’s nomination, provided her ethics agreement is in place.

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