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Vice President Breaks Senate Tie to Approve New Secretary of Education

Betsy DeVos testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington, Jan. 17, 2017.
Vice President Breaks Senate Tie to Approve New Secretary of Education
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The United States Senate has narrowly approved Betsy DeVos to lead the federal Department of Education.

DeVos will join President Donald Trump’s new cabinet.

Cabinet members are among the president’s closest advisers. The president nominates them, but they need congressional approval before taking office.

As the secretary of education, DeVos will oversee the nation’s schools. She will also assist the president with education policy and legislation.

Controversial selection

If that job description sounds relatively simple, the path to DeVos’ congressional approval was not. She has been one of Trump’s most controversial cabinet choices – if not the most.

One reason is that DeVos says she wants to reduce the federal government’s involvement in education.

Historically, the federal government has played a major part in directing the nation’s public school system. Public schools are free for all students and have a fairly standard education curriculum.

About 100,000 primary and secondary schools nationwide are public. About 35,000 are private -- meaning students have to pay to attend classes.

DeVos says she would like to give more power over education to states and to parents.

At her confirmation hearing, she said she wants to move away from “what the system thinks is best for kids to what moms and dads want, expect and deserve.”

For example, instead of the local public school, some parents may want to send their child to a private same-sex school, one that provides training a certain foreign language, or one based on their religious beliefs. DeVos seeks to use public school money to support the choice.

Some supporters of DeVos say she will bring needed competition to public education. They say her vision for school choice will also give students from poor families the same opportunities as those from richer families.

Critics say DeVos’ plans will harm public schools and the students who depend on them – especially students in rural areas or those who have a disability.

Critics also point to her lack of firsthand experience of the public school system. DeVos did not attend public schools or send her children to them. She has also never been a teacher or school administrator.

Instead, she is a wealthy philanthropist, a major donor to members of Trump’s Republican Party, and a 30-year advocate for alternative choices to public education, especially Christian schools.

Vice president breaks tie

The controversy around DeVos’ confirmation was clear in Tuesday's vote. After arguing against DeVos on the Senate floor for 24 consecutive hours, all 48 Democrats opposed her, along with two Republicans from rural states. The other 50 Republicans supported her. The final vote was split, 50-50.

Fortunately, the U.S. Constitution has a way to deal with this problem. It says that if senators are “equally divided,” the vice president makes the deciding vote.

In this case, Vice President Mike Pence supported Trump’s choice and voted in favor of DeVos.

The Associate Press notes that the Senate historian says this is the first time a vice president has had to break a tie in a Cabinet nomination.

I’m Kelly Jean Kelly.

Kelly Jean Kelly wrote this story, with reports from VOA and the Associated Press. George Grow was the editor.


Words in This Story

controversialadj. relating to or causing much discussion, disagreement, or argument

curriculumn. the courses that are taught by a school

deservev. used to say that someone or something should have

certainadj. used to refer to something or someone that is not named specifically

opportunities n. a situation in which something can be done

philanthropist n. a wealthy person who gives money and time to help make life better for other people

alternative adj. offering or expressing a choice

consecutive adj. following each other without interruption

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