On Tuesday Betsy Devos, President-elect Donald Trump’s nominee for U.S. Secretary of Education faced intense scrutiny and questioning from Democrats on the U.S. Senate panel over her record and education experience.
While we do not have a clear view yet of the educational policies DeVos advocates for, the hearing did shed light on some of her personal positions and connections on the four following topics.
1. Student loan collections
Ahead of her confirmation hearing, some Democrats raised concerns about DeVos’s finances and business dealings.
Betsy DeVos is currently a billionaire philanthropist. She and her husband have extensive holdings in the RDV Corporation, a private investment and management firm.
According to The Washington Post, the firm is connected to a student loan debt collection agency contracted with the U.S. Department of Education. What’s more, 23 percent of the collection agency’s revenue is derived from its work with the Department of Education.
And if Betsy Devos is confirmed as Secretary of Education, she would have tremendous influence over who the Department of Education works with to collect defaulted loans.
Since collections agencies profit off of collecting past due loans, DeVos’s critics say that’s a conflict. In her role as Secretary of Education, Devos could adjust current rehabilitation plans and fees that could make it more difficult to get out of default.
Typically, nominees undergo an ethics review before a confirmation hearing. But in DeVos’s case, the review is still underway.
2. School choice = parent’s choice
DeVos is a long time advocate of school choice programs, particularly charter schools.
During her hearing, Devos affirmed that school choice would be a focus of hers as Secretary of Education
“Parents no longer believe that a one-size-fits-all model of learning fits the need of every child,” DeVos said.
Additionally, she noted that while she would work for the improvement of public schools, she would also fight for a parent’s right to send their child to a high-quality alternative if public education was not working for their family.
While sharply questioned by many Senate Democrats on the panel, she received support from former Secretary of Education and current Republican Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN). Alexander said DeVos views are in line with the majority of Americans, while the Democrats’ stance on public education is outdated.
3. Regulating for-profit colleges
During the hearing, and under questioning from Democratic Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), DeVos pledged to review a federal rule designed to monitor for-profit colleges.
It’s called the “gainful employment rule.” Established in 2014 by the Obama administration, the rule requires for-profit schools to demonstrate that graduates can earn enough income relative to their debt.
To meet the requirements, programs must show that the estimated annual loan payments do not exceed 20 percent of a student’s discretionary income or eight percent of their total earnings.
When questioned by Warren, DeVos said she would review the rule to ensure it is meeting its intended goal. Warren responded by saying the rule is in place and just needs to be enforced.
4. Student loan debt and college affordability
During the hearing, DeVos did not go into specifics on how she would handle the federal student loan system.
But when asked point-blank by Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) what she thinks about a free college initiative, she replied that it was an interesting idea, but nothing is really free. She also did not directly answer questions about issues affecting college affordability, such as childcare.
Warren also pressed DeVos on her past experiences with student loans and college financial aid, aiming to highlight DeVos’s lack of expertise in that area.
Although many Senate Democrats asked for more time to question DeVos on her potential policies, including those involving student loans, they were denied.
What’s next for Betsy Devos?
The confirmation hearing ended without voting to confirm DeVos. Over the next two days, the panel can submit written questions. The committee will not vote on her confirmation until she clears the ethics review.
If she completes the review satisfactorily, a simple majority vote will confirm her nomination as Secretary of Education.
For more information on President-elect Trump’s proposals for student loans, check out this article on his radical approach to federal aid.
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