Illinois Sens. Dick Durbin and Tammy Duckworth voted Tuesday against the nomination of Betsy DeVos, President Donald Trump’s choice to head the U.S. Department of Education.
Nevertheless, DeVos was confirmed Tuesday after Vice President Mike Pence voted in favor of the wealthy Republican donor, breaking up a historic 50-50 tie. Republican Sens. Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska voted against DeVos, fearing that their fellow Republican's focus on charter schools will undermine remote public schools in their states.
“I do not believe [Trump] nominated a qualified candidate,” Duckworth said during a speech on the Senate floor. “I was hoping Ms. DeVos would ease my concerns about her qualifications at her confirmation hearing and prove that she was up to the job. Instead, Ms. Devos failed to study, showed up unprepared and appeared unfamiliar with a foundational civil rights law that guarantees every student, including those with disabilities, the right to a quality, equitable education."
Following DeVos’ confirmation, Durbin said Senate Republicans “have entrusted our children’s success to an individual whose experience with public education is limited to using her considerable wealth to undermine it.”
“I share the concerns of parents and educators that Betsy DeVos is unfit to serve as Secretary of Education,” Durbin said in a statement. “Our children deserve an Education Secretary who will choose students over corporate and for-profit interests; who understands and cares about the needs of low-income students, students with disabilities, and students of color; and who is willing to do what is necessary to avoid conflicts of interest.”
“Clearly, Ms. DeVos is not that person,” Durbin added.
DeVos faced considerable backlash as a nominee, with many critics chastising her advocacy for charter schools and voucher programs. In the lead-up to Tuesday’s vote, constituents jammed senators’ phone lines as protesters gathered outside the Capitol. Opponents have criticized DeVos’ lack of experience with public education. The newly anointed Education Secretary never attended a public school or sent her children to one.
Despite providing few details on her agenda, DeVos will now be tasked with tackling a variety of pressing issues, like implementing the Every Student Succeeds Act, addressing rising college tuition costs and growing student loan debt, and reacting to President Trump's campaign proposal to direct $20 billion in public funding toward school vouchers.