Independent Sen. Angus King of Maine said Tuesday that he will vote against confirming Betsy DeVos as federal education secretary but will support two of President Trump’s other Cabinet nominees.

DeVos, a billionaire Michigan philanthropist, is a champion of charter schools who favors the use of taxpayer dollars to pay for private and parochial school tuition. In an interview with the Press Herald on Tuesday, King said he was troubled by her lack of commitment to the public education system that the U.S. Department of Education oversees.

Education Secretary-designate Betsy DeVos testifies on Capitol Hill last week at her confirmation hearing before the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee.

Education Secretary-designate Betsy DeVos testifies on Capitol Hill last week at her confirmation hearing before the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee. Associated Press/Carolyn Kaster

“To say she’s a proponent of school choice is an understatement,” King said. “Her whole career has been school choice to the exclusion of the basic public education system, and I am just such a firm believer in public education that I can’t go that far.”

“Nobody argues that the public education system is perfect or can’t be improved, and I think that’s where the emphasis should be,” he added. “I’m a product of public schools. My parents went to public schools. My kids went to public schools. My dad used to say that public schools are the idea at the heart of democracy. I would hate to depart from that in a wholesale fashion, which is what she seems to intend to do.”

In explaining his opposition to school-choice advocate Betsy DeVos to head the Department of Education, Sen. Angus King, shown in Portland last month, said, "Nobody argues that the public education system is perfect or can't be improved, and I think that's where the emphasis should be."

In explaining his opposition to school-choice advocate Betsy DeVos to head the Department of Education, Sen. Angus King, shown in Portland last month, said, “Nobody argues that the public education system is perfect or can’t be improved, and I think that’s where the emphasis should be.” Press Herald file photo/Gregory Rec

King, an independent and former two-time governor of Maine, said he also would vote to confirm Elaine Chao as transportation secretary. Chao, who is married to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, served as labor secretary in the George W. Bush administration and as a deputy transportation secretary under George H.W. Bush.

It is not clear where Maine’s senior senator, Republican Susan Collins, stands on the DeVos nomination, but her office said she would also vote in support of Chao, as well as Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama for attorney general and former Sen. Dan Coats of Indiana as director of national intelligence.

Both of Maine’s senators voted in support of South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley as ambassador to the United Nations Tuesday evening. She was confirmed by a wide margin – 96-4 – and now can be sworn into office.

It’s still unclear when the vote on DeVos will take place, King said.

DeVos stumbled several times in her Jan. 17 confirmation hearing. She appeared unaware that states cannot decide whether they want to enforce federal civil rights laws protecting children with disabilities, and she suggested guns should be allowed in public schools to protect students from grizzly bears. She also denied being vice president of her family’s Edgar and Elsa Prince Foundation, even though she was listed as such year after year on the foundation’s tax filings.

DeVos is the daughter of one of Michigan’s richest men and is married to another, Dick DeVos, a member of the family that created Amway. Her brother, Erik Prince, was the founder and CEO of Blackwater, the troubled mercenary firm that received billions in U.S. government contracts in Iraq, and has reportedly been advising Trump.

She chairs the Alliance for School Choice, a Washington, D.C., nonprofit that promotes school voucher programs, whereby parents can use taxpayer funds to send their children to parochial and private schools. She also sits on the board of Jeb Bush’s Foundation for Excellence in Education, which a 2012 Maine Sunday Telegram investigation revealed had ghost-written large parts of Maine Gov. Paul LePage’s digital charter school policies.

Colin Woodard can be contacted at 791-6317 or at:

cwoodard@pressherald.com