Betsy DeVos is a billionaire who has lobbied for the expansion of charter schools and private, religious schools funded by tax payers. That is the extent of DeVos experience with the U.S. education system. She has never attended a public school, her children have never attended public school, she has never held a position in public office and she is now picked to be the Secretary of Education.
Devos’ inexperience was evident during a confirmation hearing last week when Democrats on the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee grilled her on multiple issues, including sexual assault, child care, tuition and students with disabilities.
Sen. Bernie Sanders went as far as asking DeVos if she believed she would have been nominated for the position had she and her family not made such significant political contributions, about $200 million, in the past.
“As a matter of fact I do think that there would be that possibility,” DeVos said. “I have worked very hard on behalf of parents and children for the last almost 30 years.”
Inexperienced and arguably unqualified, DeVos found herself in the middle of an issue that has a tradition of sparking heated, partisan debate—the funding of public education.
Many Republicans support DeVos’ activism in making private education more assessable, while many Democrats voice concerns over her support of privatizing public education. The hearing also brought to light a new issue, Devos’ lack of knowledge.
Throughout the four-hour hearing, Devos was asked many questions by the committee and many times she did not have an answer. One such moment was when she was asked a question by Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) about an important education debate involving how student progress should be measured. DeVos did not have an answer.
Some other notable moments include when DeVos became confused when asked about the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, known as IDEA, which requires public schools to provide free and appropriate education to all students with disabilities. As well as the moment DeVos refused to agree that guns should never be allowed on school property.
“I will refer back to Sen. [Mike] Enzi and the school he was talking about in Wyoming,” DeVos said. “I think probably there; I would imagine that there is probably a gun in the schools to protect from potential grizzlies.”
Democrats are right to be concerned. DeVos’ lack of experience combined with her unwavering support of deterring public education dollars to privatized schools, a policy that lacks significant public support, is not a combination the education system can afford.
Even more concerning is the fact that DeVos is not the only underqualified pick. Ben Carson, nominated as the Housing and Urban development secretary has very little experience in housing and has called public housing social engineering. There’s also Jeff Sessions as the next U.S. Attorney General. Sessions is not entirely supportive of civil rights, he once called the NAACP un-American, and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, a group co-founded by Dr. Martin Luther King, “communist-inspired.”
DeVos is not alone in her inexperience, but she the first nominee of President Trump to have never completed an ethics review on how she plans to avoid conflicts of interest.