President Donald Trump can now say he’s made history after less than a month in office: Betsy DeVos’s confirmation as secretary of education by the Senate was the first Cabinet appointment to require a tie-breaking vote from the vice president.
The nomination of DeVos represented Trump’s thumb in the eye of public education advocates. They vehemently opposed the nomination of someone who has steadfastly supported vouchers for private education and expansion of charter schools and seemed to have little grasp of the issues confronting the conventional public schools. From a family of immense wealth, DeVos did have the qualifications that matter to Republicans: she and her husband have given tens of millions of dollars to Republican candidates around the country, including North Carolina Sen. Richard Burr.
He and the state’s other Republican senator, Thom Tillis, voted for DeVos — even though North Carolina has been a shining example of the difference a sound public education system can make to average citizens. And their votes came after a bombardment of calls from North Carolina citizens who objected to the DeVos nomination. It’s a sad day for public education in North Carolina when its two senators, the president of the UNC system, Margaret Spellings, and the newly elected state superintendent of public instruction, Mark Johnson, all support an education secretary who thinks it’s better to offer options to traditional public schools than support and improve them.
Public school supporters will now be on edge, and rightly so. For DeVos, the challenge is whether she can suddenly put aside her clear personal preferences and be the strong advocate for public schools that the secretary of education is supposed to be.