By Martin Kidston/Missoula Current
President Donald Trump’s pick of billionaire Betsy DeVos to serve as education secretary split the U.S. Senate in a 50-50 tie on Tuesday, just as it split the votes cast by Montana Sens. Jon Tester and Steve Daines.
Tester opposed DeVos’ nomination while Daines supported it. Vice President Mike Pence broke the tie and DeVos was ultimately confirmed to the post as U.S. Secretary of Education.
“Betsy DeVos will work to bring education decisions back to our communities where they belong,” Daines said on Tuesday. “I look forward to working alongside Secretary DeVos to increase local control of our schools with ideas that originate from the parents, teachers and administrators who are closest to the classroom.”
Tester, however, said DeVos’ lack of experience in public education made her a poor choice for the post. He said 8,500 Montanans reached out asking him to oppose her nomination.
Tester said the country’s education system is the foundation of American democracy and can’t risk being undercut by a business heir and supporter of charter schools.
“What is troubling about the nomination of Betsy DeVos as Education Secretary is that she wants to privatize this public education system we have,” Tester said. “If we do that, we will destroy the foundation of this country, and we will destroy our democracy.”
DeVos is married to the heir of Amway and is the daughter of the founders of Prince Corp. and sister of Erik Prince, the founder of the security company formerly known as Blackwater USA.
She is also a strong advocate of charter schools, leaving opponents to worry that she may work to undercut the nation’s public education system. Democrats have also said she “disdains public education,” where 90 percent of the nation’s students go to school.
In a letter to DeVos, Daines said parents and educators in Montana share his concerns about current performance standards. He said the metrics are difficult for rural schools to achieve, and he urged DeVos to hand education decisions over to local jurisdictions.
He also asked DeVos to adopt the A-Plus Act, saying it would expand local control of schools and return federal education dollars to the classroom. He also asked her to support Impact Aid, a program Daines said provides flexible funding to school districts in Indian Country.