The Senate is One Vote Away from Rejecting DeVos’ Nomination

February 2, 2017 

Earlier this week the Senate Help, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee voted in favor of Elizabeth “Betsy” DeVos, President Trump’s nominee to be Secretary of Education, sending her nomination to the full Senate for a vote.

AAPD joined with many other disability and civil rights organizations in opposing the nomination of Betsy DeVos for Secretary of Education. The mission of the Department of Education must be to advance a national system of quality public education and protect the rights of all children, including children with disabilities, within that system. Ms. DeVos’ testimony during her confirmation hearing and her written submissions, together with her lengthy record of supporting the diversion of public tax dollars to private schools that limit the rights of students with disabilities, indicate that as Secretary she would undermine that critical mission.

Read AAPD’s Announcement Opposing the Nomination of Betsy DeVos for Secretary of Education

Since Senators Susan Collins (R – ME) and Lisa Murkowski (R – AK) announced yesterday that they will not vote in favor of DeVos the Senate is split 50-50 on her confirmation. We are grateful to Senators Collins and Murkowski for recognizing the importance of enforcing the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).

While it is unrealistic and unfair to expect a nominee to know the details of all the programs under the jurisdiction of the Department of Education, I am troubled and surprised by Mrs. DeVos’ apparent lack of familiarity with the landmark 1975 law, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, known as IDEA, that guarantees a free and appropriate education to children with special needs.
Senator Susan Collins (R-ME)

I have heard from thousands – truly thousands of Alaskans who have shared their concerns about Mrs. DeVos as Secretary of Education. They’ve contacted me by phone, by email, in person. Their concerns center, as mine do, on Mrs. DeVos’ lack of experience with public education and the lack of knowledge she portrayed at her confirmation hearing.  Alaskans not satisfied that she would uphold federal civil rights laws in schools that receive federal funds. They question her commitment to students with disabilities rights under IDEA. They fear that voucher programs that are intended to serve them may actually rob them of the opportunity to benefit from an education in an inclusive environment with their non-disabled peers.
Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK)

In the case of a tie, Vice President Mike Pence would cast the deciding vote to confirm DeVos. If one more Senator decides to vote against DeVos she will not be confirmed as Secretary of Education. The full Senate is expected to vote on  this soon.

The following Senators have been identified as votes that could be swayed to vote against DeVos’ confirmation:

  • Dean Heller (R–NV)
  • Pat Toomey (R-PA)
  • Jeff Flake (R-AZ)
  • John McCain (R-AZ)
  • Rob Portman (R-OH)
  • Dan Sullivan (R-AK)
  • Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV)
  • Deb Fischer (R-NE)
  • John Hoeven (R-ND)
  • Jerry Moran (R-KS)
  • Cory Gardner (R-CO)


Contact the Capitol Switchboard (202) 224-3121 and asked to be connected to one of the Senators above.

Your message can be as simple as: “Please oppose the nomination of Betsy DeVos to be Secretary of Education.”


Concerns about DeVos’ nomination to be Secretary of Education are outlined below:

The federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) requires schools to provide students with disabilities a free appropriate public education (FAPE), in the least restrictive environment appropriate, and also provides important procedural protections to students with disabilities and their families. Since it was enacted in 1975, the IDEA has made it possible for millions of students with disabilities to attend public schools with their non-disabled peers, and to receive the supports and services they need for success.

During her hearing, Ms. DeVos demonstrated a troubling lack of commitment to enforcing the IDEA. Initially, Ms. DeVos disagreed with the premise that all schools that receive federal special education funding should be subject to the requirements of the IDEA, instead arguing that this issue is “best left to the states.” Later, when asked if she was aware that the IDEA was a federal civil rights law, Ms. DeVos admitted that she “may have confused it.” Ms. DeVos either opposes federal enforcement of the federal educational rights of students with disabilities, or is unfamiliar with a critical federal law protecting these rights. Either circumstance makes her unqualified for confirmation as Secretary of Education.

Under the new Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) and the implementing regulations issued by the Department of Education, each state will develop an accountability system for its schools that makes available information about academic outcomes, student progress, and school quality. Schools must also report outcomes and demonstrate progress for groups of historically under-served students, including students with disabilities, to allow parents, teachers, and other community members to evaluate the effectiveness of each school’s educational practices.

Although she describes herself as an advocate for choice, Ms. DeVos will not commit to continuing the Department’s implementation of the ESSA accountability provisions. In her hearing, Ms. DeVos also would not commit to holding all schools that receive federal funding equally accountable. When specifically asked whether all schools that receive federal funding should be held to the same accountability standards and should be required to report instances of discipline, harassment, and bullying on an equal basis, Ms. DeVos demurred. Students with disabilities, and particularly students of color with disabilities, regularly face incidents of bullying, inappropriate use of seclusion and restraint as punishment for behavior, and discriminatory school discipline practices.  Without transparency and accountability, the “choice” facing all students and families, including students with disabilities, is a hollow one.


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