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Despite reservations, committee votes along party lines to send DeVos nomination to full Senate

Betsy DeVos testified at a hearing earlier this month.
Betsy DeVos testified at a hearing earlier this month.

The full U.S. Senate is the next stop for Betsy DeVos’s confirmation as U.S. Education Secretary. That’s after a Senate committee on Tuesday voted 12 to 11 along party lines in favor of DeVos, a billionaire from West Michigan who’s long supported school choice, charter schools, and vouchers.

But two prominent Republican senators on the committee expressed reservations, particularly about DeVos’ lack of experience.

“I continue to have concerns and I think that Mrs. DeVos has much to learn about our nation’s public schools and what challenges they face,” Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, said.

“I have serious concerns about a nominee … who’s been so involved in one side of the equation, so immersed in the push for vouchers that she may be unaware of what is broken in our public schools or how to fix it,” Murkoski said.

Senators Susan Collins, R-Maine, and Murkowski both said they may not ultimately vote for DeVos. 

They were among other Senators who raised concerns about DeVos’ comments during a hearing earlier this month, when she appeared not to understand students with disabilities have a right to an equal education under federal law.

Some Senate Democrats highlighted underperforming schools in Detroit as a reason to vote against DeVos. DeVos has worked for decades to expand school choice in Michigan.

But in Detroit, kids in charter schools only do slightly better on standardized tests.

(Learn more: We Live Here: The broken promise of school choice in Detroit)

Senator Michael Bennet, D-Colorado, said Detroit’s experience doesn’t give him any confidence in DeVos.

“What’s unfair to me is that kids are going to school in an American city that not a single person on this panel, if they could avoid it, would allow their kid to attend school,” Bennet said.

Bennet did say it was “admirable” that DeVos spent so much time, money and effort trying to improve education for kids in the state.

Many Republicans scoffed at the idea that President Trump would pick an “establishment” candidate.

Senator Tim Scott, R-South Carolina, and others said they’d received thousands of calls about DeVos’ nomination. Scott says there was “high levels of confusion” from those callers about DeVos’ ability to make sweeping changes to the country’s public schools.

It's not clear yet exactly when the Senate will vote.

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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