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THE SITUATION ROOM
Senate Questions Trump's Education Secretary Nominee. Aired 6- 7p ET
Aired January 17, 2017 - 18:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
BETSY DEVOS, EDUCATION SECRETARY NOMINEE: Escalating tuition is pricing aspiring and talented students out of college.
Others are burdened with debts that will take years or even decades to pay off. There is no magic wand to make the debt go away. But we do need to take action.
It would be a mistake to shift that burden to struggling taxpayers without first addressing why tuition has gotten so high. For starters, we need to embrace new pathways of learning.
For too long, a college degree has been pushed as the only avenue for a better life. The old and expensive brick, mortar, and ivy model is not the only one that will lead to a prosperous future. Craftsmanship is not a fallback, but a noble pursuit.
Students should make informed choices about what type of education they want to pursue post-high school and have access to high-quality options. President-elect Trump and I agree we need to support all post-secondary avenues, including trade and vocational schools and community colleges.
Of course, on every one of these issues, Congress will play a vital role. If confirmed, I look forward to working with you to enact solutions that empower parents and students, provide high-quality options, and spend tax dollars wisely.
We will work together to ensure the Every Student Exceeds Act is implemented as Congress intended, with local communities freed from burdensome regulations from Washington. And I look forward to working with Congress and all stakeholders to reauthorize the Higher Education Act to meet the needs of today's college students.
President-elect Trump and I know it won't be Washington, D.C., that unlocks our nation's potential, nor a bigger bureaucracy, tougher mandates, or a federal agency. The answer is local control and listening to parents, students, and teachers.
For nearly three decades, I have been involved in education, as a volunteer, an advocate for their and a voice for parents. I have worked as a in-school mentor for students in the Grand Rapid public schools and have the privilege of interacting with students and their families and teachers in ways that have changed my life and my perspective about education forever.
I have worked with governors, legislators, and business and community leaders to expand educational opportunity through options that are making a lifetime of difference for hundreds of thousands of kids this year alone. And I have worked with many dedicated teachers who strive every day to help student achieve, fulfill their potential, and prepare them for the global challenges they will face.
For me, it's simple. I trust parents, and I believe in our children.
Thank you again for the opportunity to appear before you. I look forward to answering your questions.
SEN. LAMAR ALEXANDER (R), TENNESSEE: Thank you, Ms. DeVos.
We will now begin our round of five-minute questions. I'm going to defer my questions until later, so we will begin with Senator Enzi and then to Senator Murray.
SEN. MICHAEL B. ENZI (R), WYOMING: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
And thank you, Ms. DeVos.
I want to welcome you here and thank you for being willing to take on this kind of a project and to appear before us. I enjoyed our meeting last month and look forward to working with you as we consider your nomination and then after that.
You're going to be dealing with a great variety of states from high population to low population. I happen to come from the lowest- population state. It has some special challenges in education. Call it rural and frontier challenges. We don't allow a child to travel about more than an hour by bus to or from school.
And as a result, we have some schools that have one or two students. It is a little bit different than was even envisioned with No Child Left Behind. So, I'm glad that we changed to ESSA.
The federal government, there was a Quality Counts 2017 report. Now, I am pleased that Wyoming was ranked number seven out of the 50 states in that. And in the area of financing education, we were number one.
And that comes at a time when our state's going through some economical suffering because of the Obama administration's war on coal and fossil fuels and the hardworking families that support those industries.
But rural and frontier has some special problems. Part of them are that the submission of some of the applications and some of the applicable reports have no bearing on what we're doing. And that's important, when we have the rural aspect, as well as the Wind River Indian Reservation, which has the home of two tribes.
In Every Student Exceeds, there are provisions to permit the secretary to reduce the department's work force. With the return of educational authority to the states and the elimination of federal programs, it's important that that work force be reduced to ensure more educational funding is provided to the schools and not kept in Washington.
Also, I'm troubled by the Government Accountability Office report that was issued at my request last November that showed the cost projections for the income-driven college loan repayment program are tens of billions dollars higher than the original estimate.
And those estimates were based on data and accounting methods that were deeply flawed. You will inherit that. And the current Department of Education's data lack transparency, omitted key information, made other flawed assumptions.
As an accountant, I was appalled. Then there's the career and technical education that you mentioned. I appreciate your emphasis on the value of craftsmanship and also technology. I just saw the movie "Hidden Figures" that introduced people to computers and the value of women in the workplace in NASA to get them into space.
I have one-sixth of my schools that don't participate in Perkins Career Technical Education because the low population gives them such a low amount of funding, that it isn't worth doing it, and that needs to change.
So, Mrs. DeVos, one of the most important jobs you will have is the implementation of Every Student Succeeds Act. I'm pleased with what you said about it. Can you talk about your plans to engage rural and frontier states and communities in that process?
DEVOS: Well, Senator, thank you. Thank you for that question.
And I too enjoyed our meeting in your office. I particularly enjoyed hearing a little bit about the special needs of schools like the Wapiti School that has the grizzly bear fence surrounding it. I think that is a unique need to Wyoming, certainly.
But, certainly, rural schools and rural settings require different approaches and different options. And so I refer to the Every Student Succeeds Act, and I think the implementation of that and Wyoming's plan for that will be particularly important to recognize the unique needs of the rural population that you have, as well many of the other states represented here in the committee.
And when we think about the future, I think about the opportunity for more choices and options for those parents at a distance-learning-type of a situation and the possibility that, you know, course choices or online courses could be offered in ways that they may not have been previously.
And I would, if confirmed, look forward to working with you and some of your other colleagues that face those same types of challenges, such as Senator Collins and Senator Murkowski, and work with you to address the specific needs of rural communities and rural -- high rural population states.
ENZI: Thank you. Look forward to working with you.
ALEXANDER: Thank you, Senator. Thank you, Senator Enzi.
SEN. PATTY MURRAY (D), WASHINGTON: Mr. Chairman, it's your committee. If you want to go first...
ALEXANDER: No. I'm going to -- thank you for the courtesy. I'm going to go a little later. Thank you.
Ms. DeVos, I really am troubled by some of the comments and things you said about public education and how you see the role of the department you have been nominated to lead now.
And so my first question for you really is yes or no. That's all I want is a yes or no. Do you believe that the mission of the Department of Education should be to strengthen public education for all of our students?
DEVOS: Yes, I do.
MURRAY: Good. So, 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. And we acknowledge today that not all schools are working for the students that are assigned to them.
And I'm hopeful that we can work together to find common ground in ways that we can solve those issues and empower parents to make choices on behalf of their children that are right for them.
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, OK.
Let me ask you about conflict of interest. President-elect Trump thinks he can resolve his financial conflicts by having his family manage his interests while he's in office.
Do you think it's OK for family members to profit off of companies that are directly impacted by the decisions you will make if confirmed?
DEVOS: No. No, I do not.
MURRAY: Well, we do know that, from press reports, you and your family have invested in what you call the education industry. That includes investments in SoFi, which is a student loan refinancing company, and K12, Inc., which is a chain of for-profit online charter schools.
You told this committee that you would sever ties with your family businesses, if confirmed. But you also said you intend to return to these businesses owned by your family when you leave public service. So, how is that different from president-elect Trump's arrangement?
DEVOS: Well, Senator, first of all, let me be very clear about any conflicts.
Where conflicts are identified, they will be resolved. I will not be conflicted, period. I commit that to you all. And with respect to the specific ones that you cited, one of them, we were aware of as we entered the process. And that is in the process of being divested.
If there are any others that are identified, they will be appropriate divested as well.
MURRAY: So, from your answer, I assume that you and your family intend to forego all investments in education companies from now on?
DEVOS: Anything that's is deemed to be a conflict will not be -- yes, will not be part of our investing.
How do you intend to convince this committee that no entity will feel pressure to purchase, partner, or contract with corporate or nonprofit entities you and your family invested in, should you be confirmed as secretary?
DEVOS: I can commit to you that nobody will feel any pressure like that.
MURRAY: Well, as you know, this committee has not received your required paperwork from the Office of Government Ethics, and they have told me they cannot provide me assurance right now that your conflicts of interest have been identified and resolved by the office.
So, again, will you be providing this committee with three years of tax returns that we have requested?
DEVOS: Senator, I have provided the committee with everything that's been requested and required of the committee. And I'm frankly very proud of the team that's been working very hard on my behalf to get all of this together.
And I know that the OGE is working very hard to work through my and others' confirmation processes as well, as is the department. I'm very hopeful that we will get this resolved and to a point of resolution here very soon. MURRAY: Well, since we do not have your ethics paperwork tonight, we have not had a chance to look at it, we have not had a chance to know whether we have additional questions, would you commit to coming back before this committee once we have that from the OGE so we can ask additional questions?
DEVOS: I commit to having -- making sure we have an ethics agreement resolved and reached.
MURRAY: Well, I hope that we have a chance, Mr. Chairman, if we have questions, to be able to follow up on that.
I just have a few seconds left. You have vast wealth, obviously. And you have used it, as you have said yourself, to influence the political system and elect candidates who support your ideological agenda.
If you are confirmed, I want to know if you believe it's appropriate for you and your family to continue to use its wealth to pressure state, local, and federal candidates to support your agenda.
DEVOS: Senator, as -- if I am confirmed, as you know, I will not be involved and engaged in political contributions, and I -- my husband will not be either.
MURRAY: OK. Thank you very much. I appreciate that.
ALEXANDER: Thank you, Senator Murray.
Senator Burr has deferred to Senator Isakson.
SEN. JOHNNY ISAKSON (R), GEORGIA: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Thank you, Ms. DeVos, for your commitment to your state, your commitment to education, and for being here today. And congratulations on your nomination.
I have a statement and then I would like to ask you three questions in regard to that statement.
This committee has established a Task Force on Government Regulation and identified 59 specific burdens and regulations that engage public education, primarily higher education. Of the 59 recommendations, 12 are totally at the auspices of the secretary of education. They can be validated and changed immediately.
In 2015, Senators Bennett, King, Booker, Burr, Alexander and myself introduced a bill to drastically simplify the burdensome and aggravating application process families fill out for family financial aid known as FAFSA.
University of Georgia, Emory University, and Georgia Tech, three well- known institutions in my state, have all said this is a priority for them to move forward and simplify the process of teaching -- getting our kids the best education they can get.
My question is, would you commit to working with our office to advance the recommendations of the Task Force on Higher Education?
DEVOS: Senator, thanks for that question.
I'm aware of this task force report. And I -- it sounds like the direction that it has taken is very promising. And, if confirmed, I look forward to working with you and the others who have been working on this to implement the things that are deemed appropriate to be done.
ISAKSON: Will you work with us and commit to us that you will with us to implement those items identified by the task force and the secretary herself or himself currently has the authority to change, meaning this won't be another government report that goes on the shelf, but one that will be acted on one way or another?
DEVOS: You have my commitment on that, Senator.
ISAKSON: And, lastly, will you work with this committee to simplify the application for federal financial aid known as FAFSA to reduce the burden of aggravation of families to take on, easier for students to apply to college and to attend college?
DEVOS: Indeed, I will. I know that's been a very burdensome process application. In fact, I recall some -- Chairman Alexander's actually unfolding the entire length of it. It's a very long process, and I would look forward to working with you to...
ISAKSON: One hundred and four questions, if I remember correctly, Mr. Chairman, 104 questions. The committee came up with a two-page, four- question application that worked just as well.
So, it's an important way to improve attending college and getting financing done.
DEVOS: Well, let me just say, I don't think we should make it any more difficult than absolutely necessary for students to be able to further their education.
ISAKSON: Right answer.
Is Mr. Booy here? You referred to the Potter's House.
DEVOS: He is, indeed. Mr. Booy is right here.
ISAKSON: Mr. Booy, would you stand up? Could you stand up, please?
I just want to thank you what you have done to show the kind of leadership we need to help people who otherwise don't get any help, aren't getting any help and may be discarded through life's disposal. You have done a great job with Potter's House. We have a number of Georgia investments in Potter's House. Appreciate what you have done very much. Thank you.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you. ISAKSON: And that brings me to this point.
Ms. Murray, Senator Murray was talking about privatizing schools and talking about the importance of -- the lack of importance of charter schools and the importance of protecting public education. And she talked about her goal and then my goal, which we have shared with each other.
And that is to work toward requiring 4-year-old pre-kindergarten for every student in the country, because we think it's so important with the early learning years for kids to get access.
We did it in Georgia. How we did it in Georgia was taking faith-based educational 4-year-old pre-kindergarten programs and private 4-year- old pre-kindergarten programs and private institutions to provide us with the classrooms and the teachers to teach the curriculum and the new program.
And today in Georgia, 61,000 4-year-old kids go to 4-year-old pre- kindergarten paid for by the state. It is delivered by a variety of private and public institutions and entities.
My point is, if you're going to meet the challenges of public education today and have to depend solely on the resources that are available to it, you will never get where you want to go. But if you get the private sector making an investment in public education and have seamless standards that everybody commits to, you can greatly expand the opportunity of education, greatly expand the accessibility of education, and do it through using faith-based, private and other- type institutions.
Would you agree with that?
DEVOS: I think it's a very interesting approach that Georgia has taken. And I think it's very similar to what Florida has done as well.
And as the ESSA Act is implemented, I think it will be really interesting for states to take a look at some other successful programs. And I would also look forward to working with the other agencies that are involved with some of the preschool funding of Head Start and so forth, HHS, and see if there's ways to more effectively use those moneys to help kids be ready for kindergarten when they reach kindergarten.
ISAKSON: My time is up. I just want to acknowledge, in reading your testimony, talking to you in my office, I appreciate your recognition that the nontraditional student of 25 years ago has become the traditional student of today. Not every kid lives in a two-parent household.
Not every kid lives in an academically charged environment. We have to come up with other programs necessary to train our kids to be able to do the jobs of the 21st century in different ways all the time. Congratulations on your nomination.
I yield back, Mr. Chairman.
ALEXANDER: Thank you, Senator Isakson.
SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (I), VERMONT: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
And, Ms. DeVos, thanks for being with us, and thanks for dropping into the office a few days ago.
DEVOS: Thank you, Senator.
SANDERS: Mrs. DeVos, there is a growing fear, I think, in this country that we are moving toward what some would call an oligarchic form of society, where a small number of very, very wealthy billionaires control to a significant degree our economic and political life.
Would you be so kind as to tell us how much money your family has contributed to the Republican Party over the years?
DEVOS: Senator, first of all, thank you for that question.
And, again, was pleased to meet you in your office last week.
I wish I could give you that number. I don't know it.
SANDERS: I have heard the number was $200 million. Does that sound in the ballpark?
DEVOS: Collectively, between my entire family?
SANDERS: Yes, over the years, yes.
DEVOS: That is possible.
My question is -- and I don't mean to be rude, but do you think, if you were not a multibillionaire, if your family has not made hundreds of millions of dollars of contributions to the Republican Party, that you would be sitting here today?
DEVOS: Senator, as a matter of fact, I do think that there would be that possibility.
I have worked very hard on behalf of parents and children for the last almost 30 years to be a voice for parents and to -- a voice for students and to empower parents to make decisions on behalf of their children, primarily low-income children.
SANDERS: Thank you.
In your statement, your prepared statement, you say -- and I quote -- "Students should make informed choices about what type of education they want to pursue post-high school and have access to high-quality options."
Some of us believe that we should make public colleges and universities tuition-free, so that every young person in this country, regardless of income, does have that option. That's not the case today.
Will you work with me and others to make public colleges and universities tuition-free through federal and state efforts?
DEVOS: Senator, I think that's a really interesting idea, and it's really great to consider and think about.
But I think we also have to consider the fact that there's nothing in life that's truly free. Somebody's going to pay for it.
SANDERS: Well, yes, you're right. You're right. Somebody will pay for it, but that takes us to another issue.
SANDERS: And that is -- if I may, and that is right now we have proposals in front of us to -- substantially lower tax breaks for billionaires in this country, while at the same time low-income kids can't afford to go to college. You think that makes sense?
DEVOS: Senator, I think if your question is really around how can we help college and higher education be more affordable for young people as they anticipate...
SANDERS: Actually, that wasn't my question. My question is, should we make public colleges and universities tuition-free, so that every family in America, regardless of income, will have the ability to have their kids get a higher education? That was my question.
DEVOS: Senator, I think we can work together, and we could work hard on making sure that college or higher education in some form is affordable for all young people that want to pursue it. And I would look forward to that opportunity if confirmed.
SANDERS: Would you agree with me that, if there is a mom watching this hearing who makes $30,000, $40,000 a year, single mom perhaps, who has to pay $10,000 or $15,000 a year for child care for her daughter, that that is a burden that is almost impossible to deal with?
What are your proposals about making child care universal for our working families? Do you have ideas on that? Do you agree with that idea?
DEVOS: That certainly is a burden. And while -- and I can understand the challenge that that family, that young mother, would face in deciding how to best serve her child's needs.
Again, I think if we're talking about the future of that child and their education, I would look forward to working with you. I know we have common ground on a lot of things and we could find ways to work together to ensure that that young mom's child will have a great opportunity for a great education in the future.
SANDERS: There are countries around the world which do provide universal, very inexpensive, or free child care. Would you work with me in moving our government in that direction?
DEVOS: Senator, again, I feel very strongly about the importance of young families having an opportunity for good child care for their children. I'm not sure that...
SANDERS: It's not a question of an opportunity. It's a question of being able to -- very often, my Republican friends talk about opportunity. It's not a question of opportunity. It's a question of being able to afford it.
How do we help somebody who's making eight or nine bucks an hour, at a time we can't raise minimum wage here because of Republican opposition, how do we make sure that those moms can get quality child care that they can afford?
DEVOS: Well, I would look forward to helping that mom get quality -- a quality education for their child or their children, so that they could look forward to a bright and hopeful future.
SANDERS: Thank you very much.
ALEXANDER: Thank you, Senator Sanders.
We're going next to Senator Hatch.
SEN. ORRIN HATCH (R), UTAH: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Certainly happy to have you here, Ms. DeVos. And I appreciate your abilities that you have exemplified, the (INAUDIBLE) work of your family, the care that you have for education, the hard work that you have done.
I have to say, there are very few people in this country could even come close to what you have done.
Let me just say, I welcome you to the committee. It's a pleasure to be here today to consider your nomination to serve as secretary of education. I appreciate your commitment to expanding opportunities for all children and your tireless work in the field of education.
Your record of services is in line with Utah values, especially your commitment to restoring local autonomy over schools. Those closest to students know what is best for their education.
In truth, you are championed as a reformer. This committee's support and passage of the Every Student Succeeds act illustrates that these values are not unique to you and me. They're instead shared by many of my colleagues who care for education as a reality. All I can say is many of my colleagues' selections for this position
-- have worked very hard to try and make sure that good people serve in these positions, not just people of stereotypical education, but those who might bring really new things to the forefront.
And I hope -- all I can say is that we have helped many of our colleagues to usher -- we have ushered them through this process on both sides of the floor. And I hope my colleagues will extend the same courtesy to you.
And I also believe in extending presidential selections the benefit of the doubt, recognizing, for example, that a person's views as a private citizen do not necessarily reflect their future actions as a holder of public office.
From my private conversations with you, I trust that you will not have -- that you will not force particular policies on states, unlike what some in education do, your predecessors have come -- have done in some cases in violation of congressional intent.
I also recognize that support for parental choice for all students is not an attack on public education. My children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren have attended public education as a reality. And I have to say that they have attended these schools. And I believe that you share my commitment to ensuring that every child receives a quality education, regardless of the type of school they attend.
Now, I spent my entire service here fighting to make equity in education a reality. And I believe that you will be an indispensable partner in this fight. And I look forward to working with you on the priorities that are important to the people of Utah, including increasing transparency, accountability and access to higher education, as well as increasing innovation and evidence-based reforms.
Unlike others here who may be interested in attacking your donations, I know you want to do right by all children, so I will stick to focusing on how we can working together on sound policy.
Right now, the Department of Education does not have a uniform measure for describing whether borrowers are repaying their loans. According to the confusion, the department is using a different borrower repayment rate methodology for each policy it comes up with.
The uniform metric might prove helpful in making information available to Congress, the higher education community and the public about the success of former students in repaying their federal student loan debts.
Now, this information could also tell us the extent to which student loan repayment rates vary across institutions. I believe students should have access to a wide variety of data when choosing a school, just like they would when choosing a car.
Greater access to information would lead to wise decision-making when choosing an institution. Now, do you support increasing transparency, and, you know,
transparency regarding loan results for students and parents to use when deciding upon a post-secondary school?
DEVOS: Senator, thank you. Thank you for that question and for your kind comments.
I agree with you 100 percent that the issue of student debt and the amount of student debt, over $1.3 trillion right now, up almost 1000 percent in the last eight years, it's a very serious issue and one which we all have to, I think, very -- pay a very close attention to and resolve in some way.
And if confirmed, I certainly will look forward to working with you and your colleagues on ways to get after this issue.
[18:30:21] The issue of the cost of education, as well as debt repayment kind of go hand in hand. And I will look forward to working with you and your colleagues, should I be confirmed.
HATCH: Thank you so much. I hope you'll be confirmed. I think you'll make a great secretary.
ALEXANDER: Thank you, Senator Hatch. Senator Casey.
SEN. BOB CASEY (D), PENNSYLVANIA: Mr. Chairman, thank you very much. Put me on record as asking for a second round, as well. I know that's under consideration. Miss Devos, thank you
ALEXANDER: It's not under consideration, but I'll be glad to put you on record.
CASEY: We'll keep trying.
Ms. Devos, thank you for being here. And appreciate you and your family being with us tonight. I wanted to start with a basic question: Would you agree with me that the -- the problem -- and that's an understatement, in my judgment -- but the problem of sexual assault on college campuses is a significant problem that we should take action on?
DEVOS: Senator, thank you for that question. I agree with you that sexual assault in any form or in any place is a problem and no disagreement there.
CASEY: Second question is would you uphold -- let me give you a little background here that you might know. In 2011 the Department of Education issued guidance on Title IX by this administration, the current administration. I'd ask you, would you uphold that 2011 Title IX guidance as it relates to sexual assault on campus?
DEVOS: Senator, I know that there's a lot of conflicting ideas and opinions around that guidance and, if confirmed, I would look forward to working with you and your colleagues and understand the range of opinions and understand the issues from the higher ed institutions that are charged with resolving these and addressing them; and I would look forward to working together to find some resolutions.
CASEY: I agree with the guidance, so I'm just asking for a yes or no. I guess you're not going to give me a yes-or-no answer on committing to upholding that guidance?
DAVOS: It would be premature for me to do that today.
CASEY: This problem is, to say it's an epidemic, I think, is also an understatement. The Centers for Disease Control told us back in 2009 that one in five women are the victims of sexual assault on campus; and yet, a lot of those women who were in that one in five never have an opportunity or never report incidents. It's a major problem for women. In so many ways, it's the ultimate betrayal.
Parents, for generations, have told their daughters study hard in school, get good grades, because when you get good grades, you might have an opportunity to go to college; and if you go to college, the world is open to you. And you can succeed by having higher education. But too often -- and it happens every year on many campuses around the country -- too often a young woman is a victim, sometimes in the first day she's there, or the first week, and sometimes over the course of her first year, and her life is destroyed by that.
So we have to long way to go to addressing this problem. We took some good action on this issue in -- as part of the Violence Against Women Act. It just happened to be my bill that got passed into law, the so- called Campus Save Act.
What we did in that bill was, for the first time, say to colleges and universities, "You have to do more than you're doing." Certainly on one broad topic of prevention and on awareness.
So young men on the campus who are the perpetrators of this have to be part of the solution. They have to be part of bystander education, a preventative strategy.
But in addition to all kinds of transparency and requirements, this is what the act did for women, or for victims, I should say, or victims of assault. Colleges and universities must provide clear statements regarding the procedures followed. They must do more than they had been doing when it comes to enforcement. And in particular with regard to victims, it says, "The college/university must indicate to the victim her right to notify law enforcement should the victim choose to," that the obligation -- "the institution has an obligation to help the victim report the incident to law enforcement, including helping her get a protective order," among other things that the school has to do.
So that's what the law is now, based upon my bill. The fall of 2015, this went into effect across the country.
[18:35:21] There's an organization called The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education. They support a bill that would totally change that. They would force a victim to go to police departments to report, and they would change the standard of evidence.
Would you commit, as secretary of education, to retaining the standard of evidence that is currently the law?
DEVOS: Senator, let me just say, my mom's heart is really piqued on this issue. Assault in any form is never OK. And I just want to be very clear on that. And so if confirmed, I look forward to understanding the past actions and the current situation better and to ensuring that the intent of the law is actually carried out in a way that is...
CASEY: The organization...
DEVOS: ... that recognizes both the victim, the rights of the victims, as well as those who are accused, as well, and that the...
CASEY: I'm out of time. But let me just -- the organization that has that position, which is contrary to the law, current law, and contrary to the spirit of what we try to do in that piece of legislation, is the recipient of donations from you totaling about 25,000 bucks over four years.
I hope, I hope that's not a conflict of interest, but I would hope that you would make a definitive commitment as the nominee to enforce the law as it relates to sexual assault on college campuses. And I'll send you more questions about it.
DEVOS: Thank you, Senator.
ALEXANDER: Thank you, Senator Casey. Senator Paul.
SEN. RAND PAUL (R), KENTUCKY: Congratulations, Ms. Devos. Thanks for your testimony.
I grew up and went to public schools and got a great education and a big fan of public schools. My kids have gone to public schools. But there are also some public schools that aren't doing very well. Even the Department of Education says about half of them aren't doing very well and of -- half the kids that are dropping out are kids of color.
So I commend you for your work, trying to help lower-income kids and trying to help everybody get a better education.
But I think the status quo just isn't really working. I have traveled to a lot of schools, though, and been amazed at some of the schools. I went to Josephina (ph) in Chicago, St. Anthony's in Milwaukee, Boy's Latin School in Philadelphia. And just amazing success stories. And you see the success in front of you, where 100 percent of the kids are going to college. Just amazing stories where, you know, 50, 40, 30 percent maybe of their contemporaries in their communities are going. So there are great successes.
But I think we need to think about the kids. People get so caught up in, "Oh, I don't want any religious schools, or only private schools," and all this, and it's like, look at the kids and look at the success there.
But I thought maybe in you take a couple of minutes and tell us about some of the things you've seen in Michigan, schools that you've either visited that are a success or just some of what you've seen that has excited you about the potential, that all these kids do have potential, and we shouldn't leave them, you know, behind.
DEVOS: Thank you, Senator. Thanks for that opportunity.
I would love to talk about some of the schools and some of the individuals that I have seen benefit from the success of being able to choose the right educational setting. And I've already mentioned the Potter's House School and John Booy, who's with us today. That's a school I regularly visit. The students there come from a multitude of different countries, speak many different languages; and most of them are from very, very low-income circumstances. And it's just amazing to see the transformation that those students have in going through their Potter's House years.
There's another student here right behind me, Denisha Meriwether (ph), whom I've gotten to know the last several years, who is the recipient of a tax-credit scholarship program in the state of Florida. Denisha (ph) will tell you very, very promptly that she had a very troubled early childhood in her grade school years. I think she was kicked out multiple times before she -- her godmother actually finally found a school that was going to work for her; and the transformation was just almost overnight.
Denisha (ph) is the first family in her -- the first in her family to have graduated high school. She's graduated college, and in May, she's going to get her master's in social work degree. So she's just a tremendous example of what can happen when you get -- when you get an opportunity to go to the right school.
[18:40:06] Nydia Salazar (ph) is also here, and she has -- her mom took her and emigrated from Peru because of the opportunity. She knew she would have a much greater opportunity to succeed and thrive. And so Nydia (ph) has been the beneficiary of a tax credit scholarship program in Arizona, and she's now in college and pursuing a higher education there.
Those are two students. There's many schools that I see that are doing amazing things, actually trying new and innovative ways of approaching education for children. And one of them I'd love to mention is called Acton Academy, and it's truly a unique model in that it's totally student-directed. They form their own constitution; and there's no teacher in the classroom. There's just a coach or a guide; and the guide cannot answer questions. They can only pose a question back to the students.
And the results from this Acton Academy are simply amazing; and the school is actually proliferating pretty rapidly throughout the country. So those are just a few examples, but I could give you dozens more.
PAUL: Well, in putting a face on it, and meeting these kids and seeing that they're going to succeed and looking them in the eye, and knowing these young ladies are going to succeed is an amazing thing.
And for those who have this philosophic hatred for vouchers and school choice and things, watch the movie "Waiting for Superman" and see the mom with tears down her face, whose child got the lottery and won to get in a good school; and then the one who didn't get in.
And Senator Alexander and I went to a Kipp Charter School in Nashville and met a young woman there. She got a full scholarship to Boston College. And I'll never forget. Here we are, we like to talk to the media. The media didn't want to talk to us at all. They wanted to talk to this young lady, because she was just an amazing success story.
But I wish you the best of luck. Thank you.
DEVOS: Thank you, Senator.
ALEXANDER: Thank you, Senator Paul. Senator Franken.
SEN. AL FRANKEN (D), MINNESOTA: Yes, I'm a member of the Minnesota DFL party, the party that the chairman invoked at the beginning of this hearing. Charter schools are not the issue here.
Minnesota is thoroughly in the mainstream. There are 37 states in this country that constitutionally prohibit the use of public school money for religious schools. So it is the DFL Party in Minnesota, thank you very much, that is in the mainstream and not our witness or the chairman.
Senator Lieberman mentioned proficiency and the NATE (ph) test, and it just reminded me of this. When I first got into the Senate, 2009, I had a roundtable of principals, and one of the principals -- in Minnesota -- and he said, "We think of the NCLB test as autopsies." And I knew exactly what he meant, because what he was saying is that the students take the test in late April. If they're lucky, they get them back in late June. The teachers can't use the results to inform their instruction.
So I saw that Minnesota, that in addition to the NCLB test, a lot of schools, a majority of schools, were taking a computer adaptive test. A computer test so you get the results right away and adaptive so that you can measure outside of grade level. And this is -- brings me to the issue of proficiency, which the senator cited, versus growth.
And I would like your views on the relative advantage of measuring, doing assessments and using them to measure proficiency or to measure growth.
DEVOS: Thank you, Senator, for that question. I think if I'm understanding your question correctly around proficiency, I would also correlate it to competency and mastery so that you -- each student is measured according to the advancement that they're making in each subject area...
FRANKEN: Well, that's growth. That's not proficiency. So in other words, the growth they're making isn't growth. The proficiency is an arbitrary standard...
DEVOS: If they reached the level, the proficiency -- if they've reached a, like, third-grade level for reading, et cetera.
FRANKEN: No, I'm talking about the debate between proficiency and growth.
FRANKEN; What your thoughts are on that.
DEVOS: Well, I was just asking to clarify, then...
FRANKEN: This is a subject that has been debated in the education community for years. And I've -- I've advocated growth as the chairman and every member of this committee knows, because with proficiency...
DEVOS: Looking back...
FRANKEN: ... teachers ignore the kids at the top, who are not going to fall below proficiency; and they ignore the kid at the bottom, who no matter what they do will never get to proficiency.
[18:45:12] So, I've been an advocate of growth. But it surprises me you don't know this issue.
And, Mr. Chairman, I think this is a good reason for us to have more questions because this is a very important subject, education, our kids' education. And I think we're selling our kids short by not being able to have a debate on it.
And I didn't know of any rule about this, you know, everyone gets one question and one other senator gets a question. I don't know where that rule comes from.
ALEXANDER: Well, I'll tell you where it comes from, Senator Franken. It comes from the committee president and the way we treated President Obama's nominees, John King, and the way we treated Arne Duncan and the way I was treated when I was a secretary. But I'm -- I'm applying the same rules to them, to Secretary DeVos, or Mrs. DeVos --
FRANKEN: Well, I think we're selling our kids short by not being able to ask follow-up questions and I was kind of surprised -- well, I'm not that surprised, that you did not know this issue. Mrs. DeVos, your family has a long history of supporting anti-LGBT causes, including donating millions of dollars to groups that push conversion therapy, the practice of trying to change someone's sexual orientation or gender identity.
For example, you and your family have given over $10 million to Focus on the Family, an organization that currently states on its website that, quote, "Homosexual strugglers can and do change their sexual behavior and identity."
Mrs. DeVos, conversion therapy has been widely discredited and rejected for decades by every mainstream medical and mental health organization as neither medically nor ethically appropriate. It has been shown to lead to depression, anxiety, drug use, homelessness, and suicide, particularly in LGBT youth. In fact, many of the leaders and founders of conversion therapy, including both religious ministries and mental health professionals, have not only publicly renounced it, but have issued formal apologies for their work and how harmful it has been to the individuals involved.
Mr. Chairman, I would ask that this be included in the record.
ALEXANDER: It will be.
FRANKEN: Mrs. DeVos, do you still believe in conversion therapy?
DEVOS: Senator Franken, I've never believed in that. First of all, let me say, I fully embrace equality and I believe in the innate value of every single human being and that all students, no matter their age, should be able to attend a school and feel safe and be free of discrimination. So, let's start there.
And let me just say that your characterization of contributions I don't think accurately reflects those of my family. I don't --
FRANKEN: Well, you've been --
DEVOS: I would hope you wouldn't include other family members beyond my core family.
FRANKEN: Well, in terms of throwing numbers around, you said that student debt has increased by 1,000 percent since --
DEVOS: Nine hundred eighty percent in eight years.
FRANKEN: I'm sorry?
DEVOS: Nine hundred eighty percent percent.
FRANKEN: That's just not so. It's increased 118 percent in the past 8 years.
DEVOS: Well --
FRANKEN: So, I'm just asking if you're challenging my figures, I would ask that you get your figures straight about education policy and that's why we want more questions. Because we want to know if this person that we are entrusting may encrust to be the secretary of education, if she has the breadth and depth of knowledge that we would expect from someone who has that important job. Thank you.
ALEXANDER: Thank you, Senator Franken. I had as many disagreements with secretary king as you apparently do with Mrs. DeVos, and we ask -- we're treating her in exactly the same way that we treated him. And I think that's what I would call the golden rule.
FRANKEN: I did not hear one member of the committee ask more questions. And here, virtually every member of the minority is asking to ask more questions and that's a very substantial difference.
ALEXANDER: We have -- because you've got a nominee of the Republican Party. We're not going to treat a Republican nominee differently than we treat a Democratic nominee. We've had -- we've had the same situation with both President Obama's nominees. So, we'll go here next.
SEN. PATTY MURRAY (D), HEALTH, EDUCATION, LABOR & PENSIONS COMMITTEE: Mr. Chairman, I do want to put in the record that Michael Levitt had two rounds.
ALEXANDER: Michael Levitt was never education secretary.
MURRAY: Rod Page under Bush had ten-minute rounds. There is other precedent. So, that's why my members are asking --
ALEXANDER: I appreciate that, Senator Murray, and I appreciate you're saying that.
[18:50:02] I'm trying to be fair by treating Mrs. DeVos in the same way we treated both President Obama's education nominees.
We'll go next to Senator Cassidy.
SEN. BILL CASSIDY (R), HEALTH, EDUCATION, LABOR & PENSIONS COMMITTEE: Mrs. DeVos, thanks. Good to see you again. I've enjoyed our meeting in anticipation of this.
I'm really struck. The kind of reaction your nomination has elicited. So, let me just ask some questions. Do you support public education?
DEVOS: Absolutely, Senator.
CASSIDY: Man, that's amazing. You would think some would have us think that you do not.
Do you believe that all children, all children deserve to have the opportunity to receive quality education?
DEVOS: Absolutely, I do.
CASSIDY: Do you support the rights of all children, regardless of income or race? By the way, this means a lot to me, this next one -- to have the option to choose the school that meets their child's needs?
DEVOS: Absolutely I do, and I commend you and your wife for the school that you started that's specifically focused on dyslexic students.
CASSIDY: I will tell you, by the way, my son, who's very bright, graduated from -- speaking of dyslexia -- graduated from an inner city school, public school, then graduated with honors from some fancy school in the Northeast. And my daughter, who has dyslexia, we're able to pay the tuition so that she can have her needs addressed. And not all parents can pay that tuition, so it matters very much to me that a parent, regardless of our income, can get her child's needs addressed. So, thank you for doing that. Just a few more. Do you support the belief the decisions affecting
our children's education are best left to the states and locals to decide to allow them to tailor the education policies and programs that best need -- that best meet the needs of their students?
DEVOS: I do, indeed.
CASSIDY: Oh my gosh.
Do you view the role of the U.S. secretary of education as an opportunity to advance your personal education views and agenda?
DEVOS: Not mine personally. I'm going to hopefully be able to advance this president-elect's and also the views of many, many parents nationally.
CASSIDY: As secretary of education, is it your intention to undermine our nation's public education system?
DEVOS: Not at all.
CASSIDY: As secretary, will you carry out the implementation of federal education laws in a way that reflects the very letter and intent of the law?
CASSIDY: Do you intend to mandate, direct, coerce, or control any state, local school district or school on any education program that is specifically prohibited by the secretary and federal law, one such example being Common Core?
CASSIDY: Do you intend to mandate, direct, coerce, or control any state, local school district or school to require school choice policies including private school vouchers or scholarships?
CASSIDY: Now, let's just clear that for the record.
Next, just -- you mentioned dyslexia. I am passionate about that. Twenty percent of us are dyslexics, 20 percent.
I'm told that one out of four children of color by age four reads substantially -- by fourth grade, reads substantially below grade level. That's important because we learn to read, then we read to learn. If you've not learned to read, you're behind the 8-ball. So that is an issue I'm passionate about.
As secretary of education, will you commit to working with me and others to find common ways to promote better awareness and understanding of dyslexia, and will you commit to working with me and this committee to develop better federal education policies to ensure that dyslexic children and all students with differences have the resources they need?
DEVOS: I would look forward to that opportunity, Senator.
CASSIDY: Now, as secretary, you may not agree to this one or not. Will you commit to working with me and this committee to develop new federal policies that will ensure early screening for dyslexia in school are universal screenings for all students in school, to ensure that any learning differences are diagnosed early and that the appropriate services are provided to students?
DEVOS: I would look forward to exploring that with you to see whether that's a federal role or best left to the states, but I would look forward to that opportunity.
CASSIDY: That is a fair answer. I have a couple more I've got to ask, but this meeting is going long. I will thank you for your answers and I will yield back.
DEVOS: Thank you, Senator.
ALEXANDER: Thank you, Senator Cassidy.
SEN. MICHAEL BENNET (D), HEALTH, EDUCATION, LABOR & PENSIONS COMMITTEE: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. In view of how fair you've been to me and other members of the committee, it pains me to say this -- I really wish we had a second round of questions too. I really wish we had the tax returns from this nominee.
I don't believe you are a precedent for this. When you were the nominee you'd been a governor, you'd been the president of a university.
[18:55:02] John King had been a school principal, had been the commissioner of education in the state of New York. Arne Duncan had been the superintendent of the Chicago public schools.
Those were the experiences they brought to their committee hearing, and their records were well-known and well-established. There is no way in the period of time we have here that we're going to be able to elicit that level of background. So I would ask that some consideration be given to our having additional questions and that the tax returns be made available to the committee.
I want to thank Mrs. DeVos for your willingness to serve and for being here, for your passion about education, for your family as well. I agree with you and the committee members know this, that our public school system is not working for many of our kids, particularly those living in poverty. I think it's utterly unacceptable and the fact we don't pay attention to it, the fact we treat America's children like they're someone else's children I think is something that this generation is going to have to pay for in the future.
Every kid in this country should have had access to a great public school. I support parents' choices among high quality public schools and charter schools, and I think plays a critical role in education. But the goal for me has never been school choice, for its own end. The goal is high quality public schools where every kid and every neighborhood can receive a great education. For a kid from a low- income family, there's no difference between -- there may be a philosophical, but there's no practical difference between being forced to attend a terrible school and being given a chance to choose among five terrible schools. That's no choice at all and it's certainly not a meaningful one.
In Denver, we made a different deal, a deal that said we're going to create a public choice system, we're going to authorize charters, we're going to create innovation schools and strengthen traditional schools. But without exception we demanded quality and implemented strong accountability. And as far as I can tell, Detroit and Michigan to a degree has followed exactly the opposite path.
According to one analysis, the Detroit public schools -- and by the way, it's not easy to figure this out because there's so little accountability in Michigan. The Detroit public schools average 9 percent, 9 percent of the kids are proficient. The charter schools do a little better at 14 percent of the kids are proficient.
I'll stipulate that the charter schools are doing better, but that's a horrible outcome for everybody involved. According to an education trust report 2013, the majority of charter schools in Michigan perform worse than the Detroit -- in Michigan perform worse than the Detroit public schools when it came to African-American students in eighth grade math. Nearly half of charter schools in Michigan ranked in the bottom quarter of all schools statewide.
So, my question is this -- not a false choice about whether we should have choice or shouldn't have choice. We should have choice. But what you've learned of the last 20 years of this work in Michigan that has changed your mind about what it is that kids need in America in the 21st century?
DEVOS: Senator, thank you for that question. And, first of all, I look forward to correcting some of the record regarding Detroit, and I think it's important first of all to put Detroit in context. In 1950, there were 1.8 million people living in the city of Detroit. Today, there's less than 700,000, 675,000 roughly.
Anyone with any means in the city of Detroit has -- with school-aged students has basically left the city, and the students -- the students there today --
BENNET: I'm sorry, with respect, I'm not asking for a history of Detroit. What I'd like to know -- what I asked about was the last 20 years of school reform you've been so involved with in Michigan.
DEVOS: Yes, but you are referring specifically to the Detroit schools.
DEVOS: And the reality today is that 8 out of 10 students in Detroit are living in poverty. Nobody accepts that the results in Detroit overall are acceptable. There's clearly room for a lot more improvement. But the reality is that more than half of the --
BENNET: I'm sorry. What -- I'm sensitive (ph), because I don't -- I'm not going to get a second round of questions, what have you learned about the failures of the Detroit public schools and Detroit charter schools that has informed your decision-making as the secretary of education? What went wrong there that's going to go right in cities all across America as a result of your philosophy about how we --
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: OK. We --
DEVOS: Actually, I believe there's a lot that has gone right in --
BLITZER: All right. We're going to continue to monitor this hearing right now.
Our special coverage continues with "ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.