Betsy DeVos' Education Secretary Confirmation Hearing : NPR Ed President-elect Trump's pick for education secretary faced tough questions during her Senate confirmation hearing. She maintained her strong support for school choice and free-market solutions.
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At DeVos' Senate Hearing, Questions Of Choice, Charters, 'Other Options'

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At DeVos' Senate Hearing, Questions Of Choice, Charters, 'Other Options'

At DeVos' Senate Hearing, Questions Of Choice, Charters, 'Other Options'

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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Betsy DeVos has spent much of her career and her own money trying to create alternatives to public schools that aren't giving students the education they need. Donald Trump has tapped her to lead the Department of Education. And yesterday, DeVos took questions from senators on Capitol Hill about her education philosophy. NPR's Cory Turner says it all boils down to one word - choice.

CORY TURNER, BYLINE: In her opening remarks, DeVos made clear she doesn't think traditional public schools are a good fit for every child.

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BETSY DEVOS: Parents no longer believe that a one-size-fits-all model of learning meets the needs - need of every child, and they know other options exist, whether magnet, virtual, charter, home, faith-based or any other combination.

TURNER: The problem, say DeVos' critics, is her faith in the free market and that she thinks parents should be able to use public school dollars to pay for options that aren't public schools. That led to this exchange with Democratic Senator Patty Murray of Washington.

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PATTY MURRAY: Can you commit to us tonight that you will not work to privatize public schools or cut a single penny from public education?

DEVOS: Senator, thanks for that question. I look forward, if confirmed, to working with you to talk about how we address the needs of all parents and all students.

TURNER: DeVos went on to say she hopes she can find common ground with those who disagree with her views on school choice, to which Murray said...

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MURRAY: I take that as not being willing to commit to not privatizing public schools or cutting money from education.

DEVOS: Well, I guess I wouldn't characterize it in that way.

MURRAY: Well, (laughter) OK.

TURNER: Congress passed a big bipartisan education law just a year ago. And as the committee's Republican chairman, Lamar Alexander, pointed out during the hearing, vouchers didn't make the cut. So he asked DeVos if, as secretary, she would try to push them on the states anyway. Her answer...

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DEVOS: No, I would hope I could convince you all of the merit of that in maybe some future legislation, but certainly not any kind of mandate from within the department.

TURNER: To be clear, Alexander is a strong supporter of DeVos, and began the hearing by saying he believes she is on our children's side. Also on DeVos' side, former Senator Joe Lieberman, who introduced her and swung back at her critics, including teachers unions, who point out that the billionaire has never taught in, managed or attended a public school. In Lieberman's words, she's not part of the education establishment.

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JOE LIEBERMAN: Honestly, I believe that today, that's one of the most important qualifications you could have for this job.

TURNER: The committee's Democrats were frustrated, not just with some of DeVos' answers, but also with Chairman Alexander - first, because he chose to hold the hearing before the Office of Government Ethics could finish its review of DeVos' financial holdings, looking for conflicts of interest. Alexander also held senators to a strict five-minute time limit, prompting one of his colleagues to lament what he called a rush job. Cory Turner, NPR News, Washington.

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