Editor’s Note: Betsy DeVos was confirmed as education secretary on Tuesday, Feb. 7, following a full Senate vote, which resulted in a 50-50 tie. Vice President Mike Pence administered the tie-breaking vote in DeVos’s favor, the first time in history that a vice president has had to do so for a Cabinet nomination. Democrats held the floor for 24 hours preceding the final vote in an attempt to sway Republican senators to vote against Devos’s confirmation, but were ultimately unsuccessful. Senators voted along party lines, with the exception of Republican Senators Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, who opposed her nomination. The story below went to press on Monday, Feb. 6.
DeVos’s nomination recently was cleared for a confirmation vote by both that body’s Education Committee and a vote by the entire senate.
Prior to the vote, two Republican senators, Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska announced that they would vote “no” on the nomination, becoming the first Republicans to oppose one of Trump’s cabinet-level nominees.
Also prior to the vote, there was a groundswell of opposition from school boards throughout the New York. That included the New Hyde Park-Garden City Park school board. On the week before Trump’s inauguration, the board approved a resolution opposing the DeVos nomination.
The vote was 4-1, with one abstention and one board member, David Del Santo, absent from the meeting.
Patricia Rudd, a board member, based her opposition on what she said was DeVos’s lack of educational experience. In explaining his decision to abstain, Ernest Gentile said that he did not know enough about the nominee to cast a vote, while James Reddan voted against the resolution. The vote came after a request from Ralph Ratto, president of the New Hyde Park-Garden City Park Teachers Association, the school district’s teachers union. The board’s resolution claimed that DeVos was “a candidate apparently lacking any credentials as an educator.”
For the past month, the New York State United Teachers Union (NYSUT) has been petitioning school districts to pass similar resolutions. Among the Long Island districts passing such a resolution were Bay Shore, Patchogue-Medford, Sachem and Miller Place. Statewide, school districts in Albany, Ardsley, Beacon, Clarkstown, Comsewogue, Connetquot, Hastings-On-Hudson, Irvington, Kingston, Longwood, Middletown, New Paltz, Niagara Falls, Plattsburg, Rochester, Schenectady, South Seneca and Williamsville Central School District
The National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers, the nation’s two largest teachers unions, oppose DeVos’ confirmation.
DeVos’s nomination has been a point of contention among school districts, educators, parents and elected officials since Trump’s announcement of his intent to appoint the Republican activist and philanthropist on Nov. 22.
Known for her adamant support of charter schools and K-12 tuition voucher programs, the conservative mega-donor has been vocal about her intentions to expand the private school system, raising concerns that the nominee could prove detrimental to the funding and overall fate of public education.
Fears were deepened by the proceedings of DeVos’s Cabinet hearing on Jan. 17, a full committee hearing during which DeVos’s “grizzly bear” justification regarding gun policy on school premises set off a firestorm of ridicule.
Her competence was further undermined by her inability to correctly distinguish between growth and proficiency, two traditional, but vastly different, ways by which to evaluate students.