Calling public education “the closest thing to magic in America,” South Carolina’s Sen. Tim Scott Tuesday closed out a 24-hour marathon debate on Secretary of Education nominee Betsy DeVos with a strong defense of her intentions for schools.
The defense came just minutes before DeVos was confirmed by a razor-thin major in the Senate. The vote ended in a 50-50 tie among senators, so Vice President Mike Pence was called in to cast the deciding vote. The vote was seen as perhaps the best chance among Democrats to defeat one of President Donald Trump’s Cabinet nominees.
The secretary of education cannot privatize public education. That would take an act of Congress
Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C.
The tie vote had been expected, as in the hours before the DeVos vote security at the Capitol had been ramped up, with entrances and even sidewalks closed off. Republicans in the Senate hold a 52-48 majority but Sens. Susan Collins, R-Maine, and Lisa Murkowski, R-Ala., last week made Senate floor statements that they would vote against DeVos.
Just before the vote came Scott’s statement, though that was limited to two and half minutes. He spoke after Democrats had spent most of the previous 24 hours lambasting Trump’s choice to head the Department of Education.
Democrats, buoyed by what they called an “unprecedented” level of phone calls from opponents of the nomination, said the Michigan businesswoman and charter school advocate was uniquely unqualified to lead the Education Department. Senators questioned her lack of a degree in education administration, and the track record of what they called a failing charter school system in Michigan that she had influenced. They cast her as an enemy of public schools and civil rights, especially for students with disabilities.
Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., said the distaste that Democrats had for DeVos could be chalked up simply to different views of the parties on the best way to serve students in the United States. He called her charter school system a success. He then yielded the floor to Scott.
Scott began his defense of DeVos by noting that he himself had almost dropped out of high school, “before I found a path with quality public education.” He said he thanked God for public education.
But, he added, “Far too many kids, too many millions of kids, do not have a high level education available.”
And, as debate ended and the votes were about to begin, he took on one more Democratic fear, that DeVos would privatize American public education.
“The secretary of education cannot privatize public education,” he said. “That would take an act of Congress.”