Watch list

What we’ll be listening for at the confirmation hearing for Betsy DeVos, Trump’s education pick

PHOTO: YouTube / American Federation for Children
Michigan Republican Betsy DeVos in President-elect Donald Trump's nominee for U.S. secretary of education.

If Sen. Elizabeth Warren keeps her promises, Betsy DeVos is in for a challenging confirmation hearing next week.

DeVos, who President-elect Donald Trump has chosen to run the U.S. Department of Education, will likely face questions from Democrats about her advocacy for school vouchers and her long history of philanthropic and political giving during the hearing, which has been postponed until Jan. 17.

With a Republican majority in the U.S. Senate, Cabinet picks are expected to be confirmed without much trouble. But the hearing will be the first real chance for Americans to learn about the Michigan philanthropist’s vision for their schools.

Here’s what we’ll be listening for:

How she wants to improve education for students in traditional public schools, and whose job she thinks that is.

DeVos has a strong track record of lobbying for charter schools and vouchers that allow families to use public funding to pay private school tuition. But she’s stayed mum on many issues relevant to students attending traditional public schools.

How often should students take standardized tests? What does DeVos think those test scores should be used for? Should federal officials continue to push for schools to suspend fewer students, or for states to improve education for English language learners? The U.S. Department of Education has weighed in on all of these questions over time, so senators might want to know how DeVos would approach them.

The future she envisions for the department she’s been chosen to lead.

The broad, bipartisan consensus about improving education that has held for years is is falling apart, creating an opening for some Republicans who don’t support the very existence of a federal education department. They have begun to outline a legal, practical roadmap for dismantling it. Would DeVos support any of those moves?

How a big voucher plan might work, and her plans for the education budget.

Trump has promised a $20 billion school choice plan for students from poor families, with the money coming from a combination of federal and state sources. Beyond that, he hasn’t offered many details.

If that is her vision, too, would she use money from other programs, like Title I funds meant for educating poor students, to do it? Or should it work like Indiana’s voucher program, which she has influenced? That state’s program, the biggest in the nation, increasingly serves students from middle-class families and those who never attended public school.

Concerns about her many potential conflicts of interest.

As philanthropists, DeVos and her husband have given away more than a billion dollars. Her education policy political action committee has handed out even more. She has stepped down from the PAC’s leadership and provided substantial information about her finances and campaign contributions, but her official ethics review is ongoing. Senators could reasonably ask whether those longstanding ties can so easily be severed, and whether any of them could continue to influence her judgment. (On the other hand, she’s also given to many of them.)

Whether she plans to make changes at the Office of Civil Rights.

The Obama administration bulked up this office within the federal education department. Some civil rights groups are concerned the Trump administration will scale it back, and Politico recently reported that DeVos had spoken about the office with Republican Sen. James Lankford, who is skeptical about its work to ensure transgender students have certain protections in schools.

Her reflections on Detroit and Michigan schools, where she has wielded heavy influence.

DeVos and her PAC have advocated for the dismantling of Michigan’s largest school district. Does she believe that the country in general would be better off with a system of disconnected charter schools?

She’s also worked to protect the state’s charter schools from additional regulation. Critics — including current U.S. Education Secretary John King — say the lack of enforced quality standards for Michigan charter schools hurts students. Does she acknowledge an issue?

How she’ll fill in the gaps in her education CV.

DeVos hasn’t worked in a school, and she didn’t attend or send her children to public schools, either. Senators, Warren included, have promised to ask why she thinks she’s right for the job.

This story has been updated to reflect the new date for DeVos’ confirmation hearing.

your cheat sheet

Your Daily DeVos: Brain training and grizzly country

President Donald Trump’s nominee for U.S. education secretary, Betsy DeVos, has exerted plenty of influence as a billionaire philanthropist, Michigan political figure, and school-choice advocate.

But she’s usually done so out of the spotlight. Now, as U.S. senators consider whether to confirm her as secretary, she’s coming under sharp scrutiny from lawmakers, policy wonks, journalists, and the general public.

That can make for an overwhelming crush of new information, and we’re here to help you keep up. We’ve summarized our coverage here and will be highlighting the most important developments in the unspooling DeVos story every day, at least until her confirmation vote, now set for Jan. 31. Nominate the stories that help you by emailing us or tweeting with #dailyDeVos.

Here’s what caught our eye today:

Monday, Jan. 23

1. DeVos isn’t getting the second confirmation hearing that Democrats wanted. Her vote was delayed, though, to give senators time to parse a very lengthy ethics agreement. Look for a vote on Jan. 31.

2. She isn’t selling her interest in Neurocore, a company that claims to help people deal with issues like attention deficit disorder with “biofeedback technology.”

3. DeVos’s remarks on grizzly bears and guns in schools led to snickers, protest signs, and plenty of outrage among gun-control advocates. But officials in Wyoming don’t think the idea is ridiculous at all.

Catching up: Chalkbeat’s DeVos coverage up to now

• Where it all started: What you should know about Betsy DeVos, Trump’s education secretary pick — and what her choice might tell us about his plans.

• The first thing DeVos did after being nominated: clarify that she really doesn’t like the Common Core standards.

• DeVos’ appointment would end decades of a bipartisan education policy consensus. Here’s what the moment feels like from inside the reform movement.

• We had a lot of questions before DeVos’s confirmation hearing. She didn’t answer all of them — but she did seek to appear mainstream, her bear fears notwithstanding.

• Many Detroit school supporters blame DeVos for policies that have led to the dire state of their schools. They’re onto something — but the truth is a little more complicated.

• Remember: The biggest upcoming decisions about schools won’t come from the Trump administration, and they won’t be made by DeVos. They’ll happen in state legislatures.

• Learn about Indiana’s voucher program, which mirrors what DeVos has pushed for (and increasingly serves middle-class families). She’s influenced Tennessee’s program, too.

• DeVos got invited to Colorado, so lawmakers there could show her another vision of school choice.

Betsy DeVos

Women’s march participants took on DeVos this weekend — with posterboard. Here’s what it looked like

PHOTO: Sarah Darville
The Women's March in New York City.

A portion of the protesters at the women’s marches across the country on Saturday made it clear that they found Betsy DeVos unbearable.

Signs referencing President Trump’s nominee for education secretary were scattered throughout the protests — and grizzly bear puns abounded, in reference to remarks DeVos made during her confirmation hearing about the need to protect students from bears.

DeVos, a philanthropist and school-choice champion, also appeared confused about the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, inspiring another round of signs. She faces a Senate committee vote on Jan. 31.

Here are some of the education and DeVos-focused posters:

New York, courtesy Alex Zimmerman



Washington, D.C., courtesy Elizabeth Green