Education

Bernie Sanders to Betsy DeVos: ‘Would you be here if you hadn’t donated millions to Republicans?’

Among many other deeply questionable cabinet picks, President-elect Donald Trump selected billionaire and notorious Republican donor Betsy DeVos to be his education secretary.

DeVos has never attended nor worked with public schools, instead she promoted private school vouchers, a program that tends to disproportionately benefit religious private schools while doing little to improve the quality of education for children of poor families. DeVos has, herself, suggested American schools should be used to build “God’s kingdom.”

Predictably enough, senate Democrats weren’t about to let her off so easily, least of all former Democratic candidate and Vermont senator Bernie Sanders, whose presidential campaign preached for the removal of big money from politics as well as tuition-free public college. Sanders took it upon himself to grill DeVos over both.

Sanders’ first question regarded the millions DeVos has donated to the Republican party over the years, and was also a pointed jab at her qualifications.

“Do you think that if your family had not made hundreds of thousands of dollars in contributions to the Republican Party that you would be sitting here today?” Sanders asked.

While DeVos did concede that this was a “possibility,” she argued that she has “been working hard to be a voice for students and to empower parents to make decisions on behalf of their children, primarily low-income children,” who are, ironically, the demographic that stands to be most hurt by private school vouchers.

Sanders went on to question DeVos about what she would do to make public college more accessible. Sanders himself campaigned largely on making public colleges tuition-free.

“Some of us believe that we should make public colleges and universities tuition free so that every young person in this country, regardless of income, does have that option. That’s not the case today,” he said. “Will you work with me and others to make public colleges and universities tuition free though federal and state efforts?”

In response, DeVos noted that “nothing in life [is] truly free,” which, as a statement, is fair enough, but Sanders offered a strong response, noting the government’s priorities were in serious disarray if tax cuts for “billionaires in this country” were being dished out and driving wealth inequality to new heights, “while at the same time low-income kids can’t afford to go to college.”

Other Democratic senators grilled DeVos on other topics, with former Democratic vice presidential candidate Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine pushing DeVos to answer questions about the Individuals With Disabilities in Education Act as well as whether private schools would be held to handle bullying and harassment the same way public schools are. Sen. Al Franken hit DeVos on conversion therapy and gay rights at religious private schools; Sen. Bob Casey asked if DeVos would respect a 2011 Department of Education letter establishing that sexual assault on college campuses was covered by Title IX (which she refused to answer); and Sen. Chris Murphy questioned DeVos about guns in school.

In answering Murphy, DeVos took things one step further in her classically conservative response (leave this to states and locales), suggesting guns could be a necessity in the event of… a bear attack.

Watch the video below, via The Wall Street Journal:

Featured image via screen grab

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