Contentious Battle for Trump’s Education Secretary

Next week, the vote to confirm Betsy DeVos as Secretary of Education will take place. Unlike some of President Trump’s other cabinet nominees, DeVos is anything but a shoo-in. In fact, she is teetering on the brink, just one vote shy of rejection.

Since the nominee’s confirmation hearing in January there’s been a steadily growing drumbeat to reject her, driven in part by a groundswell of parents with children with learning disabilities. They point to her seeming lack of knowledge regarding the IDEA, the federal education law protecting the rights of children with learning and other disabilities.

In addition, DeVos has been taken to task for her support of a company that claims to have a “fix” for ADHD. According to Education Week, the billionaire nominee is an investor in and board member of Neurocore, a company that claims “its neurofeedback technology can fix problems such as attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder and has ‘proven and long-lasting’ positive effects on children with autism.”

Current scientific evidence does not support such claims, according to the clinical guidelines of the American Academy of Pediatrics and three leading researchers consulted by Education Week. “It’s misleading the public to say neurofeedback is effective in treating kids with ADHD and autism,” said Nadine Gaab, an associate professor of pediatrics at the Boston Children’s Hospital and a faculty member at the Harvard Graduate School of Education.

The Opposition

Those with an interest in children with learning differences are not the only ones speaking out against DeVos. An article in The New York Times, notes that DeVos is being opposed by “progressive groups, teachers’ unions and the Democratic Party itself, as well as from grass-roots local parents’ and teachers’ organizations. But as clamorous as these protests have become, Ms. DeVos is also imperiled by a lack of support from constituencies that a Republican nominee might normally count on.”

As a philanthropist and an advocate, she has fought not only for the expansion of the charter school sector — a bipartisan cause — but also for school vouchers, which can allow students to carry taxpayer dollars to private schools, for-profit schools, religious schools and online schools…Research suggests that traditional public schools and nonprofit charter schools generally outperform for-profit charters and private schools that accept vouchers, and some organizations representing nonprofit charter schools have come out against Ms. DeVos.

Down to the Wire

With Senators Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) joining all the Senate Democrats in opposition, DeVos is one swing vote away from rejection.

Until the vote actually takes place, you can be sure that Senators will be flooded with emails, phone calls, and texts from concerned voters hoping to influence the outcome of this surprisingly contentious nomination.