Senate Confirms Betsy Devos as Education Sec.

Secretary of Education nomineee Betsy DeVos. Photo: AP / Carolyn Kaster

Updated: 12:48 p.m. ET

The Senate confirmed Betsy Devos as Secretary of Education, with Vice President Mike Pence breaking a 50-50 tie, the first time a vice president has used his vote to break a tie in a Cabinet nomination vote, according to the Associated Press.

DeVos, a wealthy Republican donor and long-time school choice advocate, has emerged as one of Trump’s most controversial Cabinet picks. Labor unions have bitterly contested DeVos’ nomination, fearing that she will destroy public education by promoting charter schools and publicly funded voucher programs for private schools. Civil rights activists also fear she will do little to advocate for LGBT students and children with special needs.

President Trump stood behind his nominee, accusing Democrats of fighting progress and change. In a tweet before the vote, he wrote “Betsy DeVos is a reformer, and she is going to be a great Education Sec. for our kids!”

Democrats, citing Devos lack of experience with public schools and her financial ties, fought her nomination for weeks, even holding the Senate floor overnight in an attempt to block the confirmation. Two Republicans, Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska joined the Democrats effort, fearing that Devos will undermine remote public schools in their states.

DeVos has provided few details about her policy agenda, but she is sure to have a busy job. DeVos will have to weigh in on the implementation of the Every Student Succeeds Act and possibly undo some of the previous administration’s regulation initiatives on school accountability and spending, which have been criticized by Republicans as federal overreach. Rules on such things as accountability already have been on hold.

She will have to address several hot-button issues in higher education, such as rising tuition costs, growing student debt and the troubled for-profit colleges, many of which have closed down, leaving students with huge loans and without a good education or job prospects. Observers will pay close attention to how DeVos deals with sexual assault and freedom of speech on campuses.

DeVos will also have to react to Trump’s campaign proposal of funneling $20 billion of public funds toward school vouchers.

Secretary of Education nominee Betsy DeVos. Photo: AP / Carolyn Kaster