January 17, 2017

Betsy Devos Refuses To Answer Kaine’s Questions On Her Level Of Support For Public Education, Equal Accountability Standards & Trump’s Financial Conflicts Of Interest

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senator Tim Kaine, a member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee, participated in a hearing on the nomination of Betsy DeVos to serve as Secretary of Education. Kaine questioned DeVos on her level of support for the American public education system and its workforce, following her past remarks that public school is a “dead end” and “government really sucks.” Kaine – a former governor and strong supporter of public education whose three children attended Richmond public schools – raised concerns over the negative impact these comments could have on the morale of public school teachers. DeVos has never attended, taught at, or sent her children to public schools.

“The nation deserves a Secretary of Education who will be a champion for kids, parents, state and local control and outcomes. I also think the nation deserves a Secretary who is a champion for public education,” said Kaine. “I worry about the effect of a leader who thinks ‘government sucks’ on the morale of the workforce. Teachers and others do better when their morale is high.”

Kaine also asked DeVos whether she supports equal accountability standards and compliance with the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) for all schools that receive taxpayer dollars. DeVos would not give a definitive answer on whether all schools that receive federal funding should be held to the same accountability standards, be required to meet the conditions of the IDEA, and be required to report the same information regarding instances of harassment, discipline or bullying.

“Are you saying that some states might be good to kids with disabilities, and some states might not be so good, and then people can just move around the country if they don’t like the way their kids are being treated?” Kaine said. “Let me state this, I think all schools that receive federal funding – public, public charter or private – should be required to meet the conditions of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act…it’s a federal law.”

During the hearing, Kaine also raised questions over President-elect Donald Trump’s lack of financial disclosures.  

“How much information do you have about the finances of the President-elect, his family or Trump-related organizations?” Kaine asked DeVos, who answered saying she had no information. Kaine continued with, “I think it is relevant in assessing the wisdom of an education policy proposal to know how the proposal may affect the president’s personal finances.”

A full transcript of Kaine’s remarks is below:

Kaine: Thank you, Mrs. DeVos. How much information do you have about the finances of the President-elect or his family or Trump-related organizations?

DeVos: I don’t have any of that information, Senator.

Kaine: So I take it that you won’t have any way of knowing when asked by the President to take official action in your capacity as Secretary how those actions might affect his financial situation?

DeVos: I’m not sure I could comment on that.

Kaine: And this isn’t theoretical. He owns a university. I think it’s relevant to assessing the wisdom of an education policy proposal to know how that policy might affect the President’s personal finances. Do you disagree with me?

DeVos: Well I think the President-elect has taken steps to ensure –

Kaine: Do you disagree with me?

DeVos: Can you state your question again?

Kaine: I think it’s relevant to assessing the wisdom of an education policy proposal to know how the proposal might affect the President’s personal finances. Do you disagree with me?

DeVos: I don’t disagree with you.

Kaine: Ok. Thank you. The nation deserves a Secretary of Education who is a champion of kids, parents, state and local control, and outcomes. And I also think the nation deserves a Secretary who is a champion of public education. In a 2015 speech on education, you were pretty blunt, “government really sucks” and you called the public school system a “dead end”. In order to clarify, you never attended a public school a K-12 public school did you?

DeVos: Correct.

Kaine: And your children did not either?

DeVos: That is correct.

Kaine: And you’ve never taught at a K-12 public school. Is that correct?

DeVos: I have not, but I’ve mentored in one.

Kaine: Ok. I worry about the effect of a leader who believes government sucks on the morale of the workforce. Teachers and others do better when their morale is high. Would you agree with me?

DeVos: Absolutely, and I support great teachers.

Kaine: And the attitude of a leader in an organization matters a lot to the morale of the workforce. Would you agree with me on that?

DeVos: Absolutely. And just with reference to the quote –

Kaine: I would like to introduce that for the record. I don’t have other questions about it and I have a very limited amount of time. I want to move on to another quote. You and your husband spoke at a conference a number of years ago and your husband said this is not attributed to you, but you were together there at the conference if  what I read is correct, “The church has been displaced by the public school as the center for activity, the center for what goes on in the community.” Thomas Jefferson didn’t view public education as contrary to or competitive with church or religion. Do you?

DeVos: I do not.

Kaine: Do you think K-12 schools that receive government funding should meet the same accountability standards, outcome standards?

DeVos: All Schools that receive public funding should be accountable. Yes.

Kaine: Should they meet the same accountability standards?

DeVos: Yes, although you have different accountability standards between traditional public schools and charter schools.

Kaine: But I’m really interested in this, should everyone be on a level playing field? So public, public charter or private K-12 schools, if they receive taxpayer funding they should meet the same accountability standards?

DeVos: Yes, they should be very transparent with the information and parents should have that information first and foremost.

Kaine: And if confirmed, will you insist upon that equal accountability in any K-12 school or educational program that receives federal funding whether public, public charter or private?

DeVos: I support accountability.

Kaine: Equal accountability for all schools that receive federal funding?

DeVos: I support accountability.

Kaine: Is that a yes or a no?

DeVos: I support accountability.

Kaine: Do you not want to answer my question?

DeVos: I support accountability.

Kaine: Let me ask you this. I think that all schools that receive taxpayer money should be equally accountable do you agree with me or not?

DeVos: Well they don’t. They’re not, today.

Kaine: I think they should. Do you agree with me or not?

DeVos: Well no because –

Kaine: You don’t agree with me. Let me move to my next question. Should all K-12 school receiving governmental funding be required to meet the requirements of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act?

DeVos: I think they already are.

Kaine: I’m asking you a “should” question. Whether they are or not, we’ll get into that later. Should all schools that receive taxpayer funding be required to meet the requirements of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act?

DeVos: I think that’s a matter that’s best left to the states.

Kaine: So some states might be good to kids with disabilities and other states might not be so good, and then what? People can just move around the country if they don’t like how their kids are being treated?

DeVos: I think that’s an issue best left to the states.

Kaine: What about the federal requirement. It’s a federal law, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. Let’s limit it to federal funding. If schools receive federal funding should they be required to follow a federal law whether they are public, public charter or private?

DeVos: As the Senator referred to –

Kaine: Just yes or no, I’ve only got one more question

DeVos: There’s a Florida program. There are many parents that are very happy with the program there.

Kaine: Let me state this: I think all schools that receive federal funding, public, public charter or private should be required to meet the conditions of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. Do you agree with me or not?

DeVos: I think that is certainly worth discussion and I would look forward to.

Kaine: So you cannot agree with me. And finally, should all school receiving governmental funding be required to report the same information regarding instances of harassment, discipline or bullying? If they receive federal funding.

DeVos: I think that federal funding certainly comes with strings attached.

Kaine: I think all such schools should be required to report equally information about discipline, harassment or bullying. Do you agree with me or not?

DeVos: I would look forward to reviewing that provision.

Kaine: If it was a court I would say to the court, “let the judge direct the witness to answer the question”. It’s not a court, you’re not under oath or you’re not under a subpoena, but you’re trying to win my vote. Thanks, Mr. Chair. 

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