Trump Education Pick Advances Despite Special Ed Worries
Deep opposition from special education advocates was not enough to prevent President Donald Trump’s nominee to lead the U.S. Department of Education from moving forward.
The U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions voted 12 to 11 Tuesday along party lines in favor of confirming Betsy DeVos. Her nomination will now go before the full Senate for a vote.
The move to advance DeVos came despite significant pushback from disability advocates and a barrage of calls to senators after the nominee admitted to being confused about the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act during her appearance before the Senate committee earlier this month.
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At the hearing, DeVos suggested that IDEA is a “matter that’s best left to the states” when asked if all schools receiving tax dollars should be subject to the law’s mandates. Further pressed on the federal civil rights law, DeVos acknowledged “I may have confused it.”
In light of her comments, the Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates urged senators to oppose DeVos’ confirmation, saying that her “lack of knowledge of the IDEA is disturbing and offensive.”
IDEA was also among several issues cited by more than 200 education and civil rights groups — including the Council of Administrators of Special Education and the American Association of People with Disabilities — who signed a letter from The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights urging senators to vote no.
Meanwhile, a coalition of over three dozen disability advocacy groups wrote to senators asking for a vote to be delayed until DeVos offered more specifics on her views related to students with disabilities.
DeVos did seek to clarify her position on IDEA in a letter to Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Georgia, last week.
“I am committed to enforcing all federal laws and protecting the hard won rights of students with disabilities,” DeVos wrote. “If confirmed as secretary, I will make it a priority to highlight what works best for students with disabilities.”
However, Democrats indicated at Tuesday’s hearing that DeVos still fell short.
“While I am pleased that Mrs. Devos clarified that she is no longer confused about whether IDEA is a federal law, she has done nothing to reinforce to me that she would actually enforce the federal law. Her responses to my written requests dance around that issue,” said Sen. Maggie Hassan, D-N.H., who has a son with cerebral palsy.
Nonetheless, DeVos retained the support of all of the committee’s Republican members.
“I think she does now understand the level of intensity to which I and a lot of other members of this committee share in terms of IDEA,” said Isakson, adding that his wife has spent decades as a special education teacher. “I’m going to work as hard as I can to make sure that where she is short as secretary, I’m there to sit by her side to give her that knowledge.”