During his campaign, President-elect Donald Trump continually promised to look outside Washington D.C. when choosing key cabinet members. While his nomination for U.S. Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos, fits that bill, her testimony during Senate confirmation hearings this week led to more questions than answers.
If nominated, DeVos, a billionaire businesswoman and former chairwoman of the Michigan Republican Party, would be the first Secretary of Education to have no formal experience in education. A champion of K-12 charter schools, DeVos thinks parents should have more choice when it comes to their children’s schooling, but she has had little to say about higher education.
It was this lack of experience that was the focus of questioning during the Senate hearing, with Democrats waiting to pounce when she made mistakes.
Take student loan debt, for example. During her testimony, DeVos inaccurately stated that outstanding debt has increased a jaw dropping 980 percent since 2008. Senator Al Franken of Minnesota promptly called out her claim as being false. There’s no question student debt has increased more than 100 percent over the course of the last eight years but it hasn’t risen anywhere near as much as she said in her testimony.
Inflating the size of an already bad problem wasn’t the only fodder for opponents during her testimony, however. Her inexperience was forced into the spotlight by Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren who pointed out that DeVos has zero personal experience with student loans as she and both of her children never needed them. Warren, an outspoken critic of Trump’s Secretary of Education choice said in a recent letter to DeVos that she has a “seemingly nonexistent record on higher education.”
DeVos, who has ties to the for-profit industry, also wouldn’t commit to upholding the gainful employment rule, which outgoing President Obama put on the books at the start of last year.
Under the rule for-profit colleges and certificate programs have to offer degrees that lead to meaningful employment. If they fail, they lose the right to participate in federal financial aid programs – including student loans. With the rule, if annual loan payments don’t exceed 20 percent of borrowers’ discretionary income or 8 percent of their total income, then the school or program passes.
DeVos told Senator Warren that she would “review” the rule, prompting Warren to question her ability to be the Secretary of Education if she can’t commit to using the tools already available to her. “Swindlers and crooks are out there doing back flips when they hear an answer like this,” Warren said.
If all of that wasn’t bad enough for DeVos critics, she also appeared to downplay the idea of free or debt free college, calling it “interesting” in a grilling from former President hopeful Bernie Sanders. DeVos explained “nothing in life is truly free.”
Author: Dave Rathmanner
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