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WV’s senators comment on DeVos confirmation

Bluefield Daily Telegraph

BECKLEY, W.Va.  West Virginia’s senators split their votes Tuesday for the confirmation of Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, contributing to a historic 50-50 tie that had to be broken by Vice President Mike Pence.

Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin voted against DeVos, while his Republican counterpart Sen. Shelley Moore Capito voted for the president’s pick.

“As my voting record indicates, I do not agree with Mrs. DeVos on every issue,” Capito said in a press release. “However, I do believe she is a passionate advocate for children and learning, and she will work hard to improve education for all students across West Virginia and the nation.

Manchin said he couldn’t support DeVos in good conscience.

“As a former governor, I understand how crucial it is for an executive leader to have his team in place, but as a senator, it is my job to evaluate a nominee’s qualifications and determine if they can lead that agency,” Manchin said in a press release. “After meeting with Betsy DeVos, reviewing her experience and watching her hearing, I could not vote for her to be our next Secretary of Education.”

Two Republicans joined Democrats in the unsuccessful effort to derail the nomination of the wealthy Republican donor. The Senate historian said Pence’s vote was the first by a vice president to break a tie on a Cabinet nomination.

Democrats cited her lack of public school experience and financial interests in organizations pushing charter schools. DeVos has said she would divest herself from those organizations.

Capito’s statement added that DeVos has indicated she shares Capito’s commitment to the enforcement of all federal laws which protect the rights of students with disabilities.

“These laws, most importantly the Individuals with Disability Act or IDEA, are essential in ensuring students with disabilities gain access to, and succeed in a high quality education system.”

In counterpoint, Manchin said, “For many communities in West Virginia, our schools are more than just classrooms, teachers and textbooks. Our children in West Virginia learn more from their public schools than reading, writing and arithmetic. They’re the heart of the community and a home away from home. They’re a safe place to stay after school where no harm will come to you. They’re a place where nutritional meals are served and health care services are provided by trusted school nurses.”

He added that the policies that DeVos supports would divert already very limited public funds to private schools, reduce accountability from those schools, and significantly harm the public school system in a rural state like West Virginia.

“Betsy DeVos’s views are not in tune with the needs of the students and families in my state.”

Manchin said he will continue to fight to protect funding for schools and teachers and ensure equal access to a quality education for all of our students.

Two Republicans, Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, joined Democrats in a marathon effort to derail the nomination of the wealthy Republican donor. The Senate historian said Pence’s vote was the first by a vice president to break a 50-50 tie on a Cabinet nomination.

Despite the win, DeVos emerged bruised from the highly divisive nomination fight. Opposed by half the Senate, she faced criticism, even ridicule for lack of experience and confusion during her confirmation hearing. At one point, she said some schools should have guns because of the threat of grizzly bears.

And there has been scathing opposition from teachers unions and civil rights activists over her support of charter schools and her conservative religious ideology.

President Donald Trump accused Democrats of seeking to torpedo education progress. 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!” Pence tweeted later in the day that supporting DeVos was “a vote for every child having a chance at a world-class education.”

DeVos 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.

Close attention also will be paid to how DeVos deals with sexual assault and freedom of speech on campuses.

Collins and Murkowski said they feared her focus on charter schools will undermine remote public schools in their states.

But DeVos supporters, however, saw her confirmation as an occasion to breathe new life into a troubled American school system and a chance to shift power from Washington to the local level.

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