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What to Know About Trump Education Nominee Betsy DeVos

Jan 10, 2017

Betsy DeVos's Senate confirmation hearing for secretary of education dominated headlines on Tuesday—and it hasn't even started yet.

DeVos's confirmation, which was supposed to take place this Wednesday, will be postponed until Jan. 17, the Senate committee on health, education, labor and pensions (HELP) announced Tuesday morning. The committee cited a "request of Senate leadership to accommodate Senate schedule," according to a tweet from the press office of chairman Lamar Alexander.

“This will not change our plans to vote on the nomination of Betsy DeVos in the HELP committee on Tuesday January 24th," said Alexander in an emailed statement to Fortune.

“Betsy DeVos is an outstanding nominee who has complied with all of the committee’s requirements and no one doubts that she will be confirmed as Education Secretary," said an Alexander aide in the same email.

The committee's decision to push the hearing back comes after Democrats raised concerns that DeVos had not yet been cleared by ethics officials or signed an agreement addressing possible conflicts of interest, as reported by Politico. A recent Washington Post story noted that DeVos and her family have donated substantial sums to 20 current Republican senators—including members of the committee who were due to oversee her confirmation hearing.

Before the delay was announced, the Post reported that DeVos was one of eight Trump cabinet members targeted by Democratic senators, who reportedly planned to "stretch the [nominees'] confirmation votes into March."

For a refresher on why some see DeVos as a controversial figure—and a primer on what to watch for during her confirmation hearings, here are five things to know about Trump's pick for secretary of education:

  1. She is a billionaire—both by birth and by marriage. She inherited the fortune built by her father, founder of a Michigan-based auto parts supply company, and is married to Dick DeVos, son of the Amway co-founder Rich DeVos.
  2. Her family has given millions of dollars to Republican politicians over the past few years. According to the Michigan Campaign Finance Network, the DeVoss spent roughly $14 million on political contributions to Michigan state and national candidates, parties, PACs and super PACs (Michigan is DeVos's home state). The Washington Post reports that DeVos and her family gave $818,000 to 20 sitting Republican senators during the 2014 and 2016 election cycles.
  3. She is a huge proponent of charter schools, and has made it her life's work to reform Michigan's school system. One of her major wins in this regard has been to create charter schools that now educate half the students in Detroit and outperform their peers in the school district, reports the Wall Street Journal. In 1993, she successfully pushed for the law that paved the way for these schools.
  4. However, she technically has no teaching or administration experience, a fact which her detractors say makes her an unqualified candidate for the education secretary role.
  5. Public schools and teachers' unions tend to disagree with her views, arguing that charters take taxpayer money away from public schools and put them to private schools—which are publically funded, but privately run. Opponents of charters generally point to the fact that the schools can choose to reject certain students, that they frequently give only give partial scholarships, and that they increase segregation. As education historian Diane Ravitch puts it, "The school chooses the student, the student doesn’t choose the school."

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