Betsy DeVos Wins Historic, Tie-Breaking Senate Vote to Become Education Secretary


Michigan billionaire Betsy DeVos won a historically close Senate vote Tuesday to become secretary of the United States Department of Education (ED), despite opposition from teachers’ unions, Democrats civil rights groups and parents.

As expected, the Senate was evenly split at 50-50, with all 48 Democrats voting against DeVos and two Republicans, Sens. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Susan Collins of Maine, joining their ranks in the vote. However, after a 24-hour talk-a-thon, Democratic senators could not convince one Republican to change his or her vote away from “yes.” At approximately 12:40 p.m. ET, Vice President Mike Pence cast a historic tie-breaking vote, making the vote 51-50 and confirming President Donald Trump’s controversial pick for the cabinet post.

It was the first time in American history that a tie-breaking vote was needed to confirm a president’s cabinet nomination.

DeVos, 59, is former head of the American Federation for Children, which supports school vouchers, private education and other forms of school choice. She never attended public school and never sent her children there. She is also a major GOP donor, conceding during hearings that her family may have contributed about $200 million to Republican politicians.

DeVos has faced impassioned criticism for her lack of public school experience, her extensive financial investments, and her shaky performance during confirmation hearings last month. She appeared unfamiliar with key education issues, said states and local districts should decide whether to have guns in schools, and did not seem to know that there was a federal law covering students with disabilities. Also, the Washington Post and other media outlets reported that she appeared to have plagiarized from a former Obama administration official written answers that she submitted to senators.

In education technology, one potential conflict of interest is DeVos’ decision to maintain her multi-million-dollar investment in Neurocore, a Michigan-based biofeedback company that aims to help children with ADHD, autism, depression and other afflictions do better in school.

However, DeVos did have the support of key Republicans, including Sen. Lamar Alexander (TN), who chairs the U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor & Pensions (HELP), as well as Republican senators and the vice president.

DeVos may have a tough road ahead as secretary of Education. “She would start her job with no credibility inside the agency she is supposed to lead,” Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) said during the 24-hour talk-a-thon preceding Tuesday’s vote. “With no influence in Congress. As the punchline in a late night comedy show — and without the confidence of the American people.”

The power of the ED secretary has also been diminished, thanks to the year-old Every Student Succeeds Act, which has put limitations on the department’s ability to redirect funds or change academic standards at the state level.

About the Author

Richard Chang is associate editor of THE Journal. He can be reached at [email protected].