Jan. 18 (UPI) — Superstar GOP donor and billionaire Betsy DeVos faced some tough questions from congressional Democrats at her Senate confirmation hearing Tuesday, on issues relevant to her nomination as President-elect Donald Trump‘s education secretary.
DeVos, a well-known proponent of a national school choice and voucher program to cover the cost of private school placement, took her seat before the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions late Tuesday afternoon. The hearing ended around 9 p.m.
During her testimony, DeVos answered questions about her qualifications to be education chief, LGBT equality and, of course, her vision for pushing the school voucher issue.
School Choice-School Vouchers
A primary concern of most opponents of government-funded private schooling is the potential cost-cutting impact it could have on the public school system.
“None of us in my family would have been able to go to college were it not for robust federal support,” Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., the panel’s top Democrat, told DeVos. “I owe everything I have to strong public schools.”
“I take this issue very seriously.”
“While we may have differences, I think we can all agree that learning as a lifelong pursuit is a fundamental American virtue,” DeVos said in her opening remarks. “Every parent in America dreams of a future when their children have access to schools with the rigor, challenges and safe environments that successfully prepares them for a brighter, more hopeful tomorrow.”
When asked whether she can guarantee that public schools will not lose “a single penny” of government funding after an implementation of vouchers, DeVos did not answer “yes” or “no.”
“I am hopeful we can work together to find common ground in ways we can solve those issues and empower parents to make choices on behalf of their children that are right for them,” she said.
Though DeVos has a track record in advocating for educational matters, some have expressed concern that her significant investments in education-related enterprises, such as a loan refinancing company, could bring about various conflicts of interest — much in the same way skeptics are concerned Trump’s businesses could interfere with his duties as president.
Murray noted that the Office of Government Ethics has not yet cleared DeVos — and could not provide any assurance that she would be cleared — for the post of education secretary, with regard to possible conflicts.
Like Trump, DeVos has said she would sever ties with her businesses, if confirmed — but return to them once she leaves office.
“Let me be very clear about any conflicts. Where conflicts are identified, they will be resolved,” DeVos said, noting that she is in the process of divesting from one potential conflict that was brought to her attention. “I will not be conflicted, period.”
DeVos said Tuesday that she “fully embraces” equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students.
Concern about her LGBT views stems from her family’s contributions to the Christian group Focus on the Family, which advocates “conversion therapy” for gays and lesbians.
“As a mom, I just can’t imagine having a child who would feel discriminated against for any reason, and I would want my child in a safe environment,” she said.
If passed by the education committee, DeVos’ nomination will get a vote in the full Senate.