For the first time in U.S. history, there was a tie in passing a vote in Congress. No, this was not to pass a piece of legislation or to determine whether or not we should go to war with another nation. Rather, it was for the nomination of who was going to be in charge of our education system for the next four years. The nomination of Betsy DeVos was divided 50-50 in Congress, with Vice President Mike Pence having to break the tie for the nomination. For the Trump administration, this is another benefit to the President’s Cabinet, but to the millions of Americans who are students, educators or have some role in academia, this is their worst nightmare.
Much like the current President of the United States, DeVos has a major lack of experience when it comes to dealing with education and educational policy. She has spent most of her career undermining the public school system for how it is subpar compared to certain charter and private schools across the U.S. In her mind, the quality of education relies not on the material that the students are learning, but the type of neighborhood they are living in and their financial status.
According to a Washington Post article regarding FEC records, DeVos’ family gave “at least $818,000 to 20 current Republican senators, including more than $250,000 to five members of the Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP)” in the 2014 and 2016 election cycles. DeVos has even used her political leverage to push for tax cuts towards wealthy Americans at the expense of public education, indicating yet another red flag on her record.
During her nomination process, Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren asked DeVos a series of questions to show just how competent (or incompetent) she was for the position of Education Secretary. Some of the questions asked by Warren brought up the fact that he has never had any personal experience with financial aid, with DeVos denying that she received any aid such as a Pell grant or student loans. After seeing that the nominee had grown up with privilege and had had little to no hardship when it came to paying for education, Senator Warren saw no reason to continue asking DeVos questions about how effectively she could fulfill her job.
When Warren shined light on the Trump University scandal and how it cheated students out of millions of dollars for an unaccredited education, she asked DeVos if she could prevent that situation from ever happening again. DeVos neither confirmed nor denied the fact that she would personally handle the situation.
“If Betsy DeVos can’t commit to using the Department of Education’s many tools and resources to protect students from fraud, I don’t see how she can be the Secretary of Education,” Warren said after interviewing DeVos.
So what exactly should American college students expect from the new Education Secretary? One of the biggest changes within the next four years is a decrease in the amount of federal funding being spent on financial aid for students (i.e. Pell grants, Stafford loans, etc.). This will mean that college will not be as affordable as it is presently, and more students are going to have to pay out of pocket for an education that should be reasonably priced. So far, the road to “Making America Great Again” has made a detour from progressive action. Whether or not it is possible to get back on track is uncertain, but as of now, it looks like it will be a very interesting four years with the Trump administration.