BY BTL STAFF
The Senate committee chairman on Monday rejected a formal request from Democrats for a second hearing to question west Michigan businesswoman and education secretary nominee Betsy DeVos about her complex financial holdings ahead of a committee vote Jan. 31, according to a Detroit News report.
The request from committee Democrats came after DeVos, a billionaire from the Grand Rapids area, finalized her financial disclosure statement and signed an agreement with the Office of Government Ethics late last week explaining her intention to divest within 90 days from 102 companies and holdings that pose potential conflicts of interest.
Washington State Sen. Patty Murray, the ranking Democrat on the Committee on Health, Education, Labor & Pensions, said Democrats particularly wanted to ask about companies DeVos would continue to own that are “directly impacted” by the U.S. Department of Education and the Trump administration’s education agenda.
“We would like to ask Ms. DeVos additional questions we were prevented from asking this week, given we did not know all of the financial and ethical information that has now been shared with us, as well as address additional questions that have arisen from the OGE paperwork,” Murray and other Democrats wrote in a letter Monday to committee Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-Tennessee).
“We believe the opportunity to ask such questions is consistent with the responsibilities and practices of this committee.”
Alexander will not hold a second hearing on DeVos’ nomination, a committee aide said Monday in response to the Democrats’ letter.
The chairman has said it’s “absolute nonsense” to say there wasn’t enough time to ask questions, citing the access that senators have had to DeVos, including private meetings with each committee member.
Alexander says DeVos’ 3 1/2-hour hearing went 1 1/2 hours longer than the hearings for either education secretary nominated by former President Barack Obama. DeVos is also answering 837 written questions submitted by committee Democrats, compared with 81 questions combined that Republicans submitted in writing to Obama’s two secretaries of education.
Murray has accused Alexander of trying to “protect” DeVos from scrutiny by ending the Jan. 17 hearing after a single round of questioning by most senators. At the hearing, Democrats used part of their time to question DeVos to ask Alexander for more time with her, and only Murray was allowed a second round of questioning.
Original story Jan. 19:
Following Betsy DeVos’ Tuesday night Senate confirmation hearing, reports say “she was stumped,” “she got schooled,” “she wasn’t prepared,” and “it was an insult to Democracy.”
While the nominee for U.S. Secretary of Education addressed topics such as charter schools, college affordability, campus sexual assault and federal compliance, national organizations say more time is needed to discuss what the future of education looks like for young people, specifically LGBTQ students.
“Today’s confirmation hearing for Betsy DeVos was not nearly long enough for the thorough discussion our children’s education requires. Short as it was, it raised a lot of additional deeply troubling issues of grave concern to all parents. While we are relieved to hear DeVos rejecting the dangerous and thoroughly discredited practice of conversion therapy her family has previously supported, it was chilling to hear DeVos dodge questions about whether she would keep essential protections for transgender students, and basically refer all other civil rights protections for students with disabilities, students of color, and religious minority students ‘back to the states,'” said GLSEN’s Executive Director, Dr. Eliza Byard in a written response on Jan. 17.
DeVos is a prominent school-choice and anti-public education advocate.
“We’ve seen where that leads, and we know that all students require more protection if we are to be a country that provides meaningful opportunity to all children. There are too many questions still to be answered. Children’s lives depend on it; the lives of LGBTQ youth depend on it. It is shameful to shut this hearing down before American parents have a chance to hear and understand what Betsy DeVos would do as our Secretary of Education.”
The latest edition of GLSEN’s National School Climate Survey found that LGBTQ students who experienced discrimination, bullying and harassment at school were more than three times as likely to have missed school in the past month as those who did not, had lower GPAs, had lower self-esteem and higher levels of depression. GLSEN has created model laws and policies for schools, districts and states to ensure LGBTQ students are safe and affirmed at school, including a model district policy for accommodating transgender and gender nonconforming students that complies with Title IX.
“If this is all the hearing we’re going to get, then we must oppose. Conversion therapy is not the only issue of concern for LGBTQ youth. LGBTQ youth come from many communities and have many identities – identities that U.S. civil rights law is designed to protect,” said Byard.
Other civil rights and LGBTQ organizations agree. The government affairs director of the Human Rights Campaign, David Stacy said, “It’s good that Betsy DeVos rejects the dangerous practice of conversion therapy and is distancing herself from extremist organizations that practice it. But will she protect LGBTQ young people and commit to keeping crucial protections in place for transgender students? That is a key, critical question and should be an easy answer. Does she reject Focus on the Family’s call for the Department of Education to rescind guidance ensuring the safety of transgender students? Will she reject attempts by the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty to have taxpayers foot the bill for discrimination against LGBTQ students and families? We still don’t know those answers and we must. The next Secretary of Education deserves a thorough vetting and this drive-by hearing is inadequate and inexcusable.”
Equality Michigan released a statement Jan. 17 in which the organization said it is “pleased” to hear DeVos state, “Every child in America deserves to be in a safe environment that is free from discrimination. If Ms. DeVos is confirmed as Secretary of Education, we look forward to working with her and her department to put those values into action in the form of policies that protect the safety of LGBT kids and ensure freedom from discrimination. Thankfully, there are many proven policies currently in place that should be maintained. We know from direct experience here in Michigan just how successful the policies of the Office of Civil Rights have been. Equality Michigan works with students, parents, and educators who rely on current nondiscrimination policies to keep kids in schools, focused on education, and healthy. These policies have literally saved students lives and we look forward to seeing them continued.”
While EQMI is hopeful about DeVos’ nomination, the concern remains that her statement avoids indicating whether or not she supports the rights of LGBTQ students specifically and also whether or not she would continue the policies of the Obama administration.
In an email response – posted on EQMI’s Facebook page on Jan. 18 – to members of the local community that question EQMI’s supportive statment of DeVos, the organization was clear that, “No, we aren’t endorsing her and I doubt this aspect of her statement will make the difference on whether or not the Senate decides she’s qualified. If she does get confirmed, then we will have to work with her to put her words into action.”
Considering DeVos’ noncommittal responses and her obvious hedging around actual policy stances during the hearing, that could be tough to work with.
What DeVos Did to Education in Michigan:
– An analysis by the Michigan Campaign Finance Network shows the DeVos family contributed $1.45 million to Michigan GOP lawmakers and the state party by the end of July 2016 after the Republican-led Legislature derailed a bipartisan provision that would have provided more charter school oversight in Detroit.
– The DeVos family has given more than $2 million to the Great Lakes Education Project’s Political Action Committee since 2001. GLEP has spent that money essentially buying policy outcomes that have helped Michigan’s charter industry grow while shielding it from accountability. GLEP also pushed hard — and successfully — to lift the cap on charter schools a few years ago, even though Michigan already had among the highest number of charters in the nation despite statistics suggesting charters weren’t substantively outperforming traditional public schools.
– In 2000, the DeVos extended family spent $5.6 million on an unsuccessful campaign to amend Michigan’s constitution to allow school vouchers – the only choice tool not currently in play in the state.
Additional DeVos Background:
– DeVos’ personal foundation has donated $275,000 to Focus on the Family, an organization that promotes, among other things, conversion therapy
– DeVos’ personal foundation has donated $15,000 to the Becket Foundation, an organization that advocates for taxpayers funding discriminatory schools
– DeVos’ personal foundation has donated $65,000 to the Thomas More Law Center, an organization that represented organizations that challenged the constitutionality of the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act.
Read more about the most awkward moments of DeVos’ Tuesday night hearing in The Detroit Free Press.
A number of articles have been written about DeVos’ education record in Michigan. Take a look at what a DeVos Education Department could be expected to do, courtesy of Stephen Henderson at The Detroit Free Press.