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A play-by-play on Betsy DeVos’ remarkable, combative confirmation as education secretary

President-elect Trump and his nominee for U.S. education secretary, Betsy DeVos

The Senate confirmation hearings for President-elect Trump’s cabinet nominees have been, for lack of a better word, wild. No doubt the same applies to Trump’s nominee to lead the nation’s public schools—controversial Michigan school choice champion Betsy DeVos.

Those listening in on this week’s often combative back-and-forth between Democrats and DeVos heard more than a few bizarre moments, including one in which DeVos spoke of the grizzly bear threat to schools and seemed to indicate she did not understand the details of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.

Public education advocates have been quick to denounce DeVos as unfit for the position.

If you’re keeping score, The Washington Post‘s Valerie Strauss has offered a first-rate “blow-by-blow” of the proceedings today, including an explanation of some of the strangest moments.

From the Post:

While many confirmation hearings have moments when somebody says or does something that raises eyebrows, the DeVos hearing on Tuesday was something of a spectacle throughout. (It’s no wonder stories about the hearing went viral on social media, something that doesn’t usually happen with education confirmation hearings.)

 It wasn’t just that DeVos — who critics say supports policies that would privatize public education — seemed unable to answer basic questions and made some rather startling statements. Among them:

She responded to a question about guns from a senator representing Connecticut, the site of the 2012 Newtown school shootings, by saying that schools in Wyoming might want to have a gun to protect against “potential grizzlies.” (The school she referred to as probably having a gun actually doesn’t have one.)

Kaine: “If confirmed will you insist upon equal accountability in any K-12 school or educational program that receives taxpayer funding whether public, public charter or private?”
DeVos: “I support accountability.”
Kaine: “Equal accountability?”
DeVos: “I support accountability.”
Kaine: “Is that a yes or a no?”
DeVos: “I support accountability.”
Kaine: “Do you not want to answer my question?”
DeVos: “I support accountability.”

Devos — as has been noted, for example, here, here, and here — could or would not answer basic questions about education policy, such as whether states and localities had to comply with a federal law protecting students with disabilities. This revealed either a stunning lack of background in key issues, lousy hearing preparation, an ability to handle the pressure — or all three.

The Internet was quick to pounce on DeVos as well. Here is a sample of the reactions.

 

In the coming days, watch for a Policy Watch examination of exactly how much influence Trump’s nominee could wield over North Carolina’s public schools.

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