Betsy DeVos was confirmed as education secretary today in a 50-50 vote in the U.S. Senate, with Vice President Mike Pence breaking the tie in her favor.
Sen. John Hoeven (R-N.D.) voted “yes” on her confirmation, toeing the party line. In response to concern among many North Dakotans that DeVos lacks the basic qualifications and knowledge necessary for the job, the senator pointed to DeVos’s “business skills.”
Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.) voted “no” on the confirmation along with all Democratic senators, two independents and two Republicans, Senators Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska.
It was the first time a vice president had to break a tie on a confirmation vote, according to the New York Times.
Doubts about DeVos’s credentials surfaced when she seemed unable to answer basic questions at her Senate confirmation hearing.
“In questioning by senators, she seemed either unaware or unsupportive of the longstanding policies and functions of the department she is in line to lead, from special education rules to the policing of for-profit universities,” The New York Times reported.
“Ms. Devos admitted that she might have been ‘confused’ when she appeared not to know that the broad statute that has governed special education for more than four decades is federal law.
“She appeared blank on basic education terms. Asked how school performance should be assessed, she did not know the difference between growth, which measures how much students have learned over a given period, and proficiency, which measure how many students reach a targeted score.”
When North Dakotans expressed their concern to Hoeven’s office, they received a statement via email:
“While it is true she is not a career educator, she does have significant business and administrative skills,” Hoeven’s reply read in part. “I believe that over time North Dakota educators will see that she will be very supportive of them and their outstanding work.”
Heitkamp said in a statement she opposed DeVos because “it was clear that she doesn’t understand the importance of public schools — highlighting her preference for private schools and her work to accomplish that goal by taking public funds away from public schools.”
“She showed her severe lack of knowledge about rural public schools, which represent about one-third of public schools nationwide. And she doesn’t have a grasp of basic education policy or laws supporting students with disabilities, yet she wants to run the federal agency overseeing the education of our kids,” Heitkamp said.