NASW withholds support for Senate confirmation of Betsy DeVos to be Education Secretary


ThinkstockPhotos-695120666The National Association of Social Workers (NASW) chooses not to support the Senate confirmation of Betsy DeVos to become U.S. Secretary of Education.

The overarching reasons for our position are that DeVos is woefully inexperienced in managing a major federal agency, appears to have very limited knowledge of federal and state government public education policies and regulations, and her seeming unwillingness to embrace the long-standing commitment of the U.S. Department of Education (DOE) to developing a high-quality system of public education for children regardless of their socio-economic status.

It is important to recall that the DOE has existed with a particular mandate to improve public education from early childhood through graduate school by working with state and local governments. Just as important, DOE’s mandate was expanded when the passage of anti-poverty and civil rights laws placed a priority on equal access to quality education for children of color and children from very low-income households.

The Elementary and Secondary Education Act in 1965 launched a comprehensive set of programs, including the Title I program of federal aid to disadvantaged children. Also in 1965, the Higher Education Act authorized assistance for postsecondary education, including financial aid programs for needy college students.

In an affirmation of his view of the importance of public education, President Jimmy Carter in 1979 signed legislation to establish the current DOE as a cabinet-level agency. He appointed Shirley M. Hufstedler, a former Federal Court judge with a deep understanding of the value of cultural equity and the importance of a major federal role in public education, as the first Secretary of Education.

Over the past decades both Democrat and Republican Presidents have placed a high value on appointing individuals who possessed leadership in education, law, government or other large bureaucracies to head this agency. The nomination of Betsy DeVos is a departure from that standard.

Ms. DeVos, an advocate for school vouchers, played a key role in a number of major education policy decisions in Michigan . It is worth noting that she has neither worked in public education nor have her own children ever attended public schools.

NASW finds it ill-advised to appoint someone such as Ms. DeVos who has never held a leadership position in a school or school district, has never been an educator, has never worked directly with children and families in public schools, and has not led a state agency or other large bureaucracy to head this critical department.

Her deficits became evident during her testimony before the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions, where she showed very limited understanding or knowledge of critical federal legislation such as the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).

Ms. DeVos also made a claim that establishing support for Title IX enforcement guidance would be “premature.” This was a curious statement given that Title IX, enacted in 1972, is necessary to protect students from discrimination based on gender in education programs or activities that receive federal financial assistance.

While NASW welcomes innovative approaches to bringing much needed improvements to our nation’s public education systems, Ms. DeVos comes with an education philosophy that is almost entirely focused on charter schools and private education systems.

She has expressed antipathy towards supporting public education and has worked hard to divert public education funds to the charter school movement. We think this is a misguided point of view. Having a viable, fully funded public education system is essential for the many millions of children who absolutely need access to free and well-supported neighborhood elementary and secondary public schools.

We are concerned that the appointment of Ms. DeVos to become Secretary of Education might lead to deemphasizing public education as a national priority.

Though she was recommended for confirmation by the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, she must still be confirmed by a simple majority of the full Senate. Her confirmation became uncertain when two Senate Republicans – Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski – announced they will vote “no” to her confirmation. Their decision to vote against this nominee was their conclusion that Ms. DeVos was essentially unqualified for the job, which is the same reason for NASW not supporting this nominee.

Though NASW recommends she not be confirmed, in the event she becomes the next Secretary of Education, we will continue to insist that Ms. Vos (1) fully accepts her responsibility to enforce all existing federal regulations that protect student civil rights (2) enforce policies that guarantee equal access to education for all children, especially those with disabilities, and (3) recognize the importance of a viable national public education system that can thrive simultaneous to promoting innovative approaches such as evidence-based charter school programs.

The National Association of Social Workers is in partnerships with coalitions that are working to stop DeVos’s confirmation. We are also urging our members and the larger social work community to contact their senators to oppose the confirmation. For more information contact NASW Senior Practice Associate Sharon Dietsche, LCSW-C, LICSW at



  1. Charles Pennington

    Too late but…
    Betsy Devos:
    Student’s proficiency – (reach a standard?) or a student’s growth – (improve over time?)
    when pushed beyond her talking points, she was stiff and often thrown off her game:

    Proficiency Testing:
    Proficiency or Growth?
    Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) wanted to know if DeVos thought test scores should measure a student’s proficiency (i.e., did she reach a specific standard?) or a student’s growth (i.e., did she improve over time?). After DeVos struggled to clarify the distinction, Franken responded, “This is a subject that has been debated in the education community for years…But it surprises me that you don’t know this issue.”
    Me: It is discriminatory as low socioeconomic children will never comply, always fail, and never learn.

    Bernie Sanders: “Do you think that if you were not a multibillionaire, if your family had not made hundreds of millions of dollars in contributions, that you would be sitting here today?”

    {**}Pro privatization of schools, vouchers, charter schools, etc{**}
    DeVos reaffirmed her support for an education system beyond a “one size fits all” approach that opened up choices—”whether magnet, virtual, charter, home, religious, or any combination thereof.” But when pushed beyond her talking points, she was stiff and often thrown off her game:

    Anti-Gay/LGBT – DeVos family has a long history of supporting anti-gay causes — including donating hundreds of thousands to groups that push “conversion therapy” — raising questions about how DeVos would address discrimination against gay and transgender students.

    Federal Funding/accountability standards:
    During a tense exchange, Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) challenged DeVos on whether schools that receive federal funding should meet the same accountability standards, the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act, and report the same information on instances of bullying, discipline, and harassment. DeVos was…less than forthcoming.

    Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pa.) asked whether DeVos would uphold a 2011 Department of Education letter establishing that sexual assault on college campuses was covered by Title IX and school reporting standards. DeVos would not commit to an answer, noting it would be “premature” to do so and that she would work with lawmakers to find a resolution.

  2. Betsy DeVos eeked through the Senate confirmation process. It will be interesting to see how she addresses the shortfalls in the public education system, and deals with the teachers unions. Decentralizing public education will most likely be a good first start for her, returning education to the experts on a local level: the teachers who work with students daily.

  3. Janet Schmidt-Sanchez

    A major reason for the Democratic-Republican debate over DeVos is MONEY! One side wants the federal government to pay for specialized services and the other side wants the states to carry the responsibility. In the end, no one wants to pay. Hence, the push for privatized and unregulated Charter schools by DeVos in Michigan. In 2014 the federal budget to IDEA was drastically cut by half for the these services leaving the states to pay. As a result, many children are not given these specialized services or given minimal services. The current system is not working and so we have to look for a “better standard” of leadership. I’m doubt DeVos is the right person for the job but I know that things can not stay the way they are. Please read this article:

  4. Please make a printer-friendly (i.e., without the webpage sidebar) or downloadable version (e.g., PDF) of this statement available. Thank you very much.

  5. Thank you for this strong, and well thought out position on Betsy DeVoss. Ms. DeVoss is not qualified for this position and it can be perceived as shameful if she is appointed. The public schools in Michigan are experiencing very hard times. Ms. DeVos has focused the DeVos attention and monies on Michigan Carter Schools. The Charter Schools have not shown unbiased data showing that they are more effective than public schools in performance and in some areas the public schools have excelled beyond that of charter schools. It is possible to have both charter schools and public schools but public schools must be a priority for the Secretary of Education. Public schools will require someone with great understanding in the public education system to restore the public education system and assure that teachers, social workers, counselors and administrators have the resources and tools to move public education to a level that allows the best public education for American children. Betsy DeVos is NOT that person.

  6. Another Administration nomination that does not have all the qualifications necessary to lead a cabinet department but seems to meet the ideological test of one side of the education debate. While some point out the concept that “to the victor goes the spoils,” in these post election nominations we are not in the Roman era of 62 BC when this was first coined and an election is not war. In modern politics, some believe an electoral mandate justifies these types of nominations but November 2016 was not a popular vote mandate. It was perhaps just the opposite. We’ve had a combined system of charter and public schools for many years now. Our hope is that the education radicals who support the nominee not try to shift our schools just to their one side. If so, we will fight it.

  7. I have contacted Senators but group voice has such leverage. Fischer makes me so angry.

  8. THANK YOU for making speaking out against the nomination of Betsy DeVos. The education of our children is too important to entrust it to such an unqualified nominee with an agenda to redirect public monies to private and charter schools!

Leave a Reply to Beth Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>