Betsy DeVos was confirmed by the Senate to head the nation’s Department of Education on Tuesday with a close vote of 51 to 50.
DeVos’ confirmation is being called as one of the most contentious ones yet, as it required an unprecedented tie-breaking vote from the president of the Senate, Vice President Mike Pence. This marks the first time that a Vice President was called to break a tie in a confirmation vote for a Cabinet position.
The Secretary of Education received more attention than most of her predecessors, and her nomination had been highly controversial. She received much criticism for her performance during the confirmation hearing in January, in which she had difficulty answering many questions about education policy.
DeVos’ critics also point to her lack of experience in public education — neither she nor her children have attended public schools — and her lack of professional experience in education and politics as reasons she is unqualified for the position.
DeVos is also known to be an advocate of charter schools and vouchers.
Maria Ferguson, the executive director of the Center on Education Policy, told The Atlantic that DeVos garnered negative attention because she represented “every negative aspect of what people feel [education] reformers are: white, entitled, wealthy, send their kids to private school.”
“And when she finally took the stand and had the opportunity to tell the world who she was, she did a very bad job of it,” Ferguson added, referring to the confirmation hearing.
Supporters of DeVos argue that Democrats feel threatened by the changes she will bring to the education system as an outsider. For instance, Senator Lamar Alexander of Tennessee was quoted by the New York Times as saying that DeVos “led the most effective public school reform movement over the last few years.”
Meanwhile, responses from the Christian community have also been mixed.
On the one hand, some like Ralph Reed, the founder and chairman of the Faith & Freedom Coalition, defend DeVos. In an op-ed for Fox news, Reed described DeVos as a “convincing and passionate advocate for the cause of school choice and greater parental control over how and where their children are educated.”
“In her worldview, education dollars should follow the student to the best available school whether it be a traditional public school, charter school or private school,” Reed said.
Rev. Robert Sirico of Action Institute pointed to DeVos’ Christian faith, and told CBN News that DeVos is a “solid evangelical Christian,” and that she is “orthodox in her beliefs and personal commitment to Jesus Christ.”
On the other hand, her opponents, including more than 2,700 alumni of DeVos’ alma mater Calvin College, say that they haven’t been convinced that she is qualified. The Calvin alumni signed a letter listing four main concerns they have with DeVos, including her “advocacy of and financial contributions to religious and charter schools,” among others.
DeVos attends Mars Hill Bible Church, a non-denominational church in Grand Rapids. She attended Holland Christian High School before attending Calvin College, where she graduated with a degree in business administration and political science.
At a gathering of Christian philanthropists in 2001, DeVos said the she and her husband hope to “confront the culture in which we all live today in ways which will continue to advance God’s kingdom, not to stay in our own safe territories.”