WASHINGTON — Education secretary pick Betsy DeVos said Tuesday that American parents must be able to send their children to high-quality schools, including charter, magnet and religious schools, if public schools are failing.

Responding to fierce criticism from teachers unions that the Republican donor and school choice activist is working against public education, DeVos told the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee that she will be “a strong advocate for great public schools.”

“But,” she added, “if a school is troubled, or unsafe, or not a good fit for a child – perhaps they have a special need that is going unmet – we should support a parent’s right to enroll their child in a high-quality alternative.”

Committee Chairman Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., a former education secretary, expressed confidence that DeVos is an “excellent” choice for the job. “She is on the side of our children,” he said.

But Sen. Patty Murray of Washington state, the top Democrat on the committee, said she was “extremely disappointed” that DeVos has not yet finalized her financial and ethics disclosures ahead of the hearing.

DeVos, 59, also said she will seek to address rising higher education costs and massive student debt, but also advance trade and vocational schools as well as community colleges because “craftsmanship is not a fallback – but a noble pursuit.”

Another priority for DeVos will be weakening “burdensome” federal regulations and giving local communities greater control over education policies.

“President-elect Trump and I know it won’t be Washington, D.C., that unlocks our nation’s potential, nor a bigger bureaucracy, tougher mandates or a federal agency,” DeVos said. “The answer is local control and listening to parents, students and teachers.”

DeVos, the wife of Dick DeVos, the heir to the Amway marketing fortune, has spent more than two decades advocating for charter schools in her home state of Michigan, as well as promoting conservative religious values.

Labor unions, Democrats and civil rights groups have opposed her appointment. She and her family have donated millions of dollars to Republican politicians and groups over the years, including campaign contributions to several committee members.

Murray, in a statement, said she wants DeVos to answer questions about her “extensive financial entanglements and potential conflicts of interest” and also to provide additional information about her finances, calling her disclosures incomplete.


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