News & Politics

5 Shocking Moments From Betsy DeVos' Confirmation Hearing

Bernie Sanders: If you were not a multibillionaire, would you would be sitting here today?

Photo Credit: Fox 10 Phoenix / YouTube

Secretary of Education nominee Betsy DeVos was grilled by Democratic senators during her January 17 confirmation hearing. Here were the five most shocking moments of the interview.

1. Guns in Schools

“Do you think guns have any place in or around schools?" Sen. Chris Murphy, D-CT, asked DeVos. Murphy has become a major advocate of gun control since representing Newtown in 2012 after the Sandy Hook massacre. Following the mass shooting in Orlando, Murphy launched a successful 15-hour filibuster. He also began a fundraising effort aimed at electing congressional candidates who prioritize gun control. 

DeVos believes the decision should be left up to the states. 

“I will refer back to Senator Enzi [R-WY] and the school he was talking about in Wyoming," DeVos answered. "I would imagine that there is probably a gun in the schools to protect from potential grizzlies.”

2. Proficiency vs. Growth

It didn't take long for Sen. Al Franken, D-MN, to discover Trump's pick for education secretary lacks a basic understanding of education policy. Franken began his line of questioning by explaining how students in his own state are measured using computer adaptive tests.

"This brings me to the issue of proficiency, which the senator cited, versus growth. And I would like your views on the relative advantage of measuring, doing assessments and using them to measure proficiency or to measure growth," Franken said.

“I think if I am understanding your question correctly around proficiency, I would correlate it to competency and mastery, so each student according to the advancements they are making in each subject area,”  DeVos said in response. 

“That’s growth,” Franken shot back. “That’s not proficiency.” 

3. Protecting Students with Disabilities 

Sen. Tim Kaine, D-VA, wanted to know how DeVos viewed the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), which currently benefits millions of students nationwide. 

"Should all K-12 schools receiving governmental funding be required to meet the requirements of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act?" Kaine asked. 

“I think they already are," she responded. 

Kaine then clarified he was asking a "should question."  

"Whether they are or not, we’ll get into that later," he said, before repeating the question. 

DeVos—again—believed the matter was "best left to the states.”

“So some states might be good to kids with disabilities and other states might not be so good and, what then, people can just move around the country if they don’t like how kids are being treated?" Kaine asked. 

DeVos repeated her answer.

“What about the federal requirement? It’s a federal law, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act,” he pressed. 

DeVos turned to a Florida voucher program for students with disabilities and Kaine cut her off. 

“Just yes or no," he told her. 

4. 'Where Federal Dollars Are in Play'

Sen. Maggie Hassan, D-NH, wasn't letting DeVos off the hook. Turning back to Kaine's questions on IDEA, Hassan hammered that the Civil Rights Act was not left up to the states as DeVos would have wanted. 

"I want to go back to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act; that's a federal civil rights law, so do you stand by your statement a few minutes ago that it should be up to the states whether to follow it?" Hassan asked.

"Federal law must be followed where federal dollars are in play," DeVos responded.

“So were you unaware when I just asked you about the IDEA that it was a federal law?” pressed the senator.

“I may have confused it," DeVos responded. 

5. The Best Things in Life Are...  

Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-VT, made wealth disparity in America a major part of his presidential campaign last year. So it was no surprise that Sanders began a discussion on billionaires fewer than 10 seconds into the interview. 

"Do you think that if you were not a multibillionaire, if your family had not made hundreds of millions of dollars in contributions, that you would be sitting here today?" Sanders asked DeVos. 

She did.

"I've worked very hard on behalf of parents and children for... almost 30 years," DeVos answered, touting her experience with "low-income families." Yet, when it came to Sanders' free college plan, which New York State is adopting, billionaire DeVos wouldn't budge.

"There's nothing in life that's truly free," she told Sanders. "Somebody's going to pay for it."

Alexandra Rosenmann is an AlterNet associate editor. Follow her @alexpreditor.

Sign Up!
Get AlterNet's Daily Newsletter in Your Inbox
+ sign up for additional lists
Select additional lists by selecting the checkboxes below before clicking Subscribe:
Election 2018