This week, the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions held a hearing on Betsy DeVos’s nomination to be the next Secretary of Education. Until this point, DeVos has not made any public statements on Title IX, so the best we have been able to do is speculate on her view of how the law should be interpreted and enforced. For example, it seems reasonable to predict that she will scale back enforcement of the statute’s application to LGBT students, based on her past, extensive financial support for anti-gay and religious causes.
Though we anticipated that a confirmation hearing might shed some light on the nominee’s additional plans for the Department of Education and Title IX, DeVos provided few concrete responses to questions by committee members. Regarding Title IX in particular, DeVos said it would be “premature” to commit to enforcing sexual assault statutes like Title IX and Campus SaVE, in response to questioning by Senator Casey (D-Pa.). She also denied that she had promised Republican Senators that she had plans to “reign in” the OCR.
On other issues, she was similarly cagey, such as when she refused to commit to Senator Warren (D-Ma.) that she would enforce existing regulations that protect students at for-profit institutions from fraud, or when she declined to reassure Senator Murray (D-Wa.) that she not was planning to dismantle public education. In fact, the only of DeVos’s positions that is clear is her support for “school choice” which many see as a euphemism for privatization, and for which she and her advocacy have come under fire in her home state of Michigan. She also dodged questions — about guns, and about services for students with disabilities — by invoking the mantra of “best left to the states to decide” (though she eventually relented that the Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act is in fact federal law.)
Though one Republican, Senator Murkowski of Alaska, pushed back somewhat on DeVos’s school choice ambitions — asking that her commitment to traditional public education was as “strong and robust” as her passion for school choice — it is evident that DeVos has the support of the Senate majority, and will likely be confirmed next week.