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DeVos confirmed after vice president makes history and casts vote

It took the historic intervention of the vice president to break a tie in the Senate, but Betsy DeVos is now U.S. secretary of education. Mike Pence's tie-breaking ballot this afternoon marks the first time in U.S. history that a vice president was called upon to vote in a cabinet appointment.

The 51-50 vote leaves the Michigan billionaire and mega GOP donor with a challenging start to her tenure leading the 4,400-employee U.S. Department of Education with its $68 billion budget.

Both Georgia senators endorsed DeVos.

"I appreciate her commitment to parents’ roles in education and school choice, as well as her statement of strong support for ensuring that kids with special needs get a personalized education plan. I also pledge to work with Mrs. DeVos in her new position to ensure the rights of all students are looked after moving forward," said Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Georgia.

Georgia GOP Sen. David Perdue said, “Both of my parents were school teachers and education is something very dear to me. Parents, teachers, administrators, and students all know that one-size-fits-all Washington education standards are not working and it is time to return control back to states and communities. Betsy DeVos shares these same beliefs. She has championed school choice and, as evidenced by her years of involvement, will work tirelessly to improve our education system. I was proud to support Betsy DeVos’ nomination and look forward to working with her to help all students succeed.”

Among those issuing statements about her confirmation was her predecessor, John B. King Jr, incoming president and CEO of the Education Trust:

Throughout the confirmation process, the Education Trust expressed concerns about Betsy DeVos’ commitment to fully embracing public education and to using the full range of tools at the Secretary’s disposal to protect and advance opportunity and achievement for low-income students, students of color, English learners, and students with disabilities. Those concerns remain.

And the Ed Trust is not alone. During the confirmation process, I was encouraged by the large numbers of students, parents, educators, community leaders, and civil rights advocates insisting that the federal role in education must be to strengthen public education — not abandon it — and to protect students’ civil rights. Indeed, Americans clearly care deeply about education and have real concerns about who will lead the nation’s education department. As the former Secretary of Education, I sincerely hope that Ms. DeVos will work hard to prove these concerns wrong and will lead the Department in a manner that protects fundamental civil rights and promotes opportunity and achievement for all students."

Here are an array of reactions.

DeKalb Superintendent Steve Green:

We invite Secretary DeVos to join us at a point of common understanding for DeKalb public schools and public schools everywhere: The true mission of education should be providing every student – gifted, mentally challenged, expatriated, or burdened by distracting socioeconomic or family needs – with the foundational elements to succeed.

For kids to succeed, we must shift from politics to problem-solving. We invite Secretary DeVos to become our partner in finding ways to give public schools what they truly need to succeed. It’s time to bring together resources … and resourceful collaboration … to support socioeconomic improvements that boost schools and students.

Former Louisiana Gov.  Bobby Jindal:

I’m proud of Betsy DeVos and the Republican Senators who voted to confirm her today to be our next Secretary of Education. The union bosses in the teachers’ unions threw everything including the kitchen sink at Betsy because they understand all too well that she won’t tolerate their excuses for the failed status quo in American education. The sad truth is that far too many kids are trapped in failing public schools that are relegating them to second class status. Betsy DeVos will provide the strong leadership to break the monopoly unions hold over our K-12 schools.  This is a great day for the conservative education reform movement and the parents of at-risk children who are desperately seeking better schools for their kids.

Wade Henderson, president and CEO of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights:

Betsy DeVos has never been a student, parent, supporter, or employee in a public school or school system in any capacity, and yet she is now tasked with ensuring our nation’s children have equal access to a quality education.  The fact that her confirmation vote was the first in American history to require a tie breaking vote by the Vice President speaks to the widespread concern about her qualifications raised by the civil rights community, concerned parents and educators from across the country.

We applaud all Senate Democrats and Republican Senators Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski for putting a commitment to enforcing our education and civil rights laws above party politics.

The Department of Education has a legal obligation to protect the civil rights of all students, and we, along with our coalition partners, will be watching to ensure that Secretary DeVos fulfills that responsibility

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush:

I congratulate Betsy DeVos on her confirmation as our nation’s next Secretary of Education. The President made an excellent choice to lead the Department of Education.

Millions of families share Secretary DeVos’s vision for disrupting a failed status quo that has denied too many children access to a quality education.  It’s time to upend the entrenched special interests that put adults above genuine reforms that will raise student achievement.

I hope the senators who opposed Secretary DeVos’s nomination will now put aside the tired arguments of the unions and come together to prioritize the needs of students.

Sid Chapman, president of the Georgia Association of Educators:

Georgians joined many Americans to drive a bipartisan rejection of DeVos’ ideas for students and public education. No other Trump cabinet nominee garnered the level of unprecedented public opposition as DeVos. This was underscored by Vice President Pence having to step in to cast the deciding vote for her nomination.

The hundreds of thunderous rallies across the country including Georgia,  the flood of phone calls, and the deluge of millions of emails in opposition to the DeVos’ nomination we believe denies the Trump administration a mandate to take over our public schools.

Students, educators, parents, civil rights workers, and special education advocates— here in Georgia and across America—will continue to speak loud and clear that we are here to stay and that we will protect public education.

Georgians and Americans have made it clear that DeVos needs to listen to the people because every single child deserves a great public school.  GAE will closely watch what DeVos does. And we will work to hold her accountable for the actions and decisions she makes on behalf of the more than 1.7 million students in Georgia’s public schools.



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About the Author

Maureen Downey has written editorials and opinion pieces about local, state and federal education policy since the 1990s.