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DeVos defends Michigan charter schools, vows to pivot from political role during hearing

Betsy DeVos testified at a hearing earlier this month.
Betsy DeVos during her confirmation hearing January 17, 2017.

School choice advocate Betsy DeVos answered a wide range of questions during a three-hour confirmation hearing in Washington D.C. Tuesday night. The billionaire from West Michigan could head the U.S. Department of Education soon.

You can watch the hearing hereor below:

Senate Democrats raised concerns about the proliferation of charter schools in Detroit, which have shown only minor improvements over the city's traditional public schools.

Michigan has more for-profit companies running charter schools than any other state.

DeVos tried to put Detroit in context, pointing out a major population decline over the years. She said “anyone with any means… with school-aged children” has left Detroit.

“Actually I believe that there’s a lot that has gone right in Detroit and in Michigan with regard to charter schools and the notion that there hasn’t been accountability is just wrong. It’s a faulty, it’s false news,” she insisted.

The DeVos family gave millions to state lawmakers last summer to stop a measure that would’ve required more oversight of Detroit charter schools.

But DeVos told Tennessee Senator Lamar Alexander her role as secretary would be to implement current policy, regardless of her personal support of charters and vouchers.

“No matter how strongly you feel about school choice, for example, you wouldn’t be prepared to mandate Washington state or Tennessee to adopt a particular school choice plan?” Alexander asked.

“No,” DeVos answered, adding, “I would hope I could convince you all of the merit of that in maybe some future legislation, but certainly not from any mandate within the department.”

Democrats were generally disappointed that Alexander, the committee’s Republican chairman, would not allow more time during the hearing to ask questions. They complained that they have yet to receive DeVos’ tax returns, among other documents.

Betsy DeVos addressed her longstanding ties to the GOP and said she and her husband, Amway heir Dick DeVos, would not donate any money to political candidates or causes if she served in public office. She said she is divesting the family business of any other potential conflicting investments in the education industry.

Senator Al Franken from Minnesota asked about her extended family’s contributions to anti-LGTBQ causes. DeVos denied she ever supported conversion therapy.

She said there is “no magic wand” for rising student debt and college tuition prices, adding that it would be a mistake to pass too big a burden onto taxpayers. She called Senator Bernie Sanders' plan to make public college free for all students an “interesting idea,” but added “there’s nothing in life that’s truly free.”

DeVos said regulations related to Common Core state academic standards, gun-free school zones, and students with disabilities should be left to state and local leaders to decide.

If confirmed, DeVos said she’d work without a accepting a salary.

Lindsey Smith is a Peabody Award-winning journalist currently leading the station's Amplify Team. She previously served as Michigan Public's Morning News Editor, Investigative Reporter and West Michigan Reporter.
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