On February 7, the Senate voted to confirm Elisabeth (Betsy) DeVos as the new U.S. Secretary of Education (learn more about Secretary DeVos). Trump’s controversial nominee for the cabinet position received 50 votes in favor of her confirmation and 50 against. The vote that ran along party lines, with the exception of Sens. Lisa Murkoswki (R-Alaska) and Susan Collins (R-Maine), who broke from their party to vote “no.” The tie was broken in favor of DeVos by Vice President Mike Pence, marking the first time a cabinet nominee has been confirmed as a result of the vice president’s vote.
The confirmation caps off a contentious process that began soon after Trump announced his nominee. DeVos provided oral testimony in a Senate hearing on January 17. She then submitted responses to a reported 1,400 additional written questions submitted by members of the Senate.
Secretary DeVos has applauded the benefits of afterschool and STEM in her written responses, some of which were posted on The Washington Post’s Answer Sheet blog. A question from Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) referred to his work on reauthorizing the 21st Century Community Learning Center initiative in the Every Student Succeeds Act and asked DeVos how she planned to “support rich high quality learning experiences for students.” DeVos responded:
After-school programs are critical to the safety and continued learning for many students. There are many programs offered by wonderful local community groups and schools that offer valuable opportunities for learning. As you noted, the Every Student Succeeds Act included the reauthorization of the 21 Century Community Learning Centers, a program that helps to provide after-school services to many children. If confirmed, I will implement the law as intended and funded by Congress, including the 21 Century Community Learning Centers program.
Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) also asked about Community Learning Centers, specifically regarding the impact that extended learning time has on student outcomes inside and outside of the classroom, and whether DeVos was committed to the continued funding of 21st Century Community Learning Centers in urban and rural settings. DeVos answered as follows:
Extended learning time, when implemented well, can be a very powerful tool for states, local school districts, schools, teachers, parents, and students to improve academic achievement. If confirmed, I will look closely at the budget of the Department of Education to determine the best allocation of taxpayer dollars to programs when making a proposed budget for future fiscal years.
In addition to afterschool, DeVos expressed her support of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education and career and technical education (CTE). Secretary DeVos wrote:
A strong pipeline of students interested in pursuing STEM careers, including research in these subject areas, is important to our nation's success
She also emphasized that preparing girls and minorities for jobs in these fields should be a particular focus. Additionally, she wrote that reauthorization of the federal Perkins CTE legislation would be a priority.
On January 31, following the submission of written testimony, the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) voted 12-11 to bring DeVos’ nomination to the Senate floor. On February 3, the Senate voted 52-48 to invoke cloture and hold a final vote for DeVos. Despite being prevented from filibustering by Senate rules, Senate Democrats held the floor with 24 hours of debate on the nominee prior to the final confirmation vote.
Among the many who spoke, Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) pointed to afterschool and summer learning programs as examples of the policies he was calling on the nominee to support:
The Afterschool Alliance plans to work with Secretary DeVos and the Department of Education to find ways to support and expand afterschool. We hope to build on her displays of support for afterschool programming, and to continue highlighting the significant benefits of afterschool programs for children and families of all identities, economic backgrounds, and geographical backgrounds across the country.
Afterschool programs have a strong research base illustrating their effectiveness in contributing to student achievement, providing support for working parents, enhancing school engagement, developing career readiness, and contributing to community wide returns on investment. With Secretary DeVos, we will work to ensure that these programs continue to reach each of the 10.2 million students they already support and extend to the almost 20 million students who are ready and waiting for opportunities to get involved.