Sen. Jerry Moran of Kansas said he had “serious concerns” about Department of Education nominee Betsy DeVos, but that she’d addressed them to his satisfaction after they met.
DeVos needed Moran’s vote to get confirmed, because two of Moran’s Republican colleagues, Sens. Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, said Wednesday that they’d oppose her.
Those senators had based their opposition to DeVos based on her answers in her confirmation hearing last month about school vouchers and a federal law that ensures equal access to education for students with disabilities.
Moran, too, had similar misgivings.
“I have had a number of serious concerns about Betsy DeVos’ nomination to be our next Secretary of Education,” Moran said in a statement. “Those concerns have been echoed by Kansas educators and parents I have met with and heard from over the last several weeks.”
By late Wednesday, Moran indicated that he’d vote for her.
“Though I began our meeting unconvinced,” he said, “I now expect to support her nomination.”
Like many senators, Moran had received a high volume of phone calls regarding DeVos, to the point where he advised constituents to email him instead.
The Senate Health, Education Labor and Pensions Committee voted 12-11 along party lines Tuesday to send her nomination to the Senate floor.
One of those votes came from Moran’s Kansas colleague, Sen. Pat Roberts.
“I have spoken with Mrs. DeVos numerous times, and I am confident she is the right person for the job,” Roberts said Tuesday. “I urge my colleagues to quickly confirm her.”
DeVos is not expected to get any votes from Democrats, and if no other Republicans defect, she’ll get 50 votes. That would require a tiebreaking vote from Vice President Mike Pence to confirm her.
Collins said that DeVos seemed to lack familiarity with the federal Individuals With Disabilities Education Act. DeVos stumbled over questions about the law in her confirmation hearing last month.
Murkowski said she had concerns about DeVos’s advocacy for school vouchers. Critics have said vouchers would privatize public education and violate the separation of church and state if more public money went to religious schools.
“Ms. DeVos confirmed to me that there will be no federally-mandated voucher program in the state of Kansas,” Moran said.
Mark Desetti, director of legislative advocacy for the Kansas National Education Association, said Moran’s vote for DeVos would be “a serious mistake with education in Kansas.”
Desetti said his association’s members have been making calls and sending letters to the offices of Moran and Roberts for weeks now, trying to convince them that a DeVos appointment would be a disaster for children and families in Kansas.
Both Collins and Murkowski specifically pointed out in their statements how bad DeVos would be for rural communities and rural schools, Desetti said.
“And here would be Jerry Moran turning his back on the rural constituents who make up the vast majority of our state,” he said.
Many Kansas children attend rural schools that will not be served well by DeVos, who supports charter schools, Desetti said.
“Voting for Betsy Devos is putting partisanship ahead of Kansas, is putting partisanship ahead of children and their education, and Jerry really needs to put Kansas first,” Desetti said.
Moran, however, said he’d become convinced that DeVos “will be working to make certain that all Kansas students are better off and that educational decisions are made by those who understand the unique needs of Kansas kids: educators, administrators and parents at the local level.”