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Your Daily DeVos: With final vote looming, Democrats hold the floor

President Donald Trump’s nominee for U.S. education secretary, Betsy DeVos, has exerted plenty of influence as a billionaire philanthropist, Michigan political figure, and school-choice advocate.

But she’s usually done so out of the spotlight. Now, as U.S. senators consider whether to confirm her as secretary, she’s coming under sharp scrutiny from lawmakers, policy wonks, journalists, and the general public.

That can make for an overwhelming crush of new information, and we’re here to help you keep up.

We’ll be highlighting the most important developments in the unspooling DeVos story until a final confirmation vote. Nominate the stories that help you by emailing us or tweeting with #dailyDeVos.

Here’s what caught our eye today:

Monday, Feb. 6

1. DeVos’s final confirmation vote is set for noon on Tuesday — and it’s still looking like Vice President Mike Pence will have to cast a historic tie-breaking vote.

2. Michigan Sen. Debbie Stabenow offered some intrigue late Monday, telling CNN that there might be another Republican preparing to vote no.

3. California Sen. Kamala Harris cited Chalkbeat’s reporting on DeVos’s influence on charter schools in Detroit while explaining her opposition. Watch it here.

4. Democrats plan to hold the Senate floor all night as they speak out against DeVos, in what’s been described as a vigil, an all-nighter, a talkathon, and a protest.

Sunday, Feb. 5

1. Further evidence that DeVos has gotten unusual attention for an education secretary nominee: She was pilloried on Saturday Night Live (at 5:45 in the video below).

2. DeVos’s confirmation could come on Monday, and Vice President Mike Pence said he expects to cast the decisive vote. But critics kept up pressure over the weekend, with in-person protests, a New York Times editorial calling for another Republican to oppose her, and even a statement from an organization of rabbis.

3. Unusually, an independent group is running television ads to support DeVos — and paint her critics as out-of-touch liberals who are “full of rage and hate.” Plus, someone is paying people to lobby online in favor of her nomination.

Thursday, Feb. 2

1. DeVos got the votes she needed in the Senate’s education committee on Tuesday, but her nomination is now in danger after two Republican senators said they would cast their final votes against her. Vice President Mike Pence may end up casting the deciding vote.

2. Her confirmation also gained one notable opponent — another billionaire school choice advocate, Democrat Eli Broad, who urged senators to vote against her.

3. If DeVos isn’t confirmed, she’ll be the first Cabinet picked derailed by the party of the president in nearly 100 years.

4. A looming complication: If the Senate confirms its own member, Jeff Sessions of Alabama, to become attorney general, before the DeVos vote, Sessions wouldn’t be able to cast a vote the Republicans need.

5. Inspired by DeVos’s own giving, a Pennsylvania teacher launched a crowdfunding campaign to buy Sen. Pat Toomey’s confirmation vote. (Toomey has said he’s definitely voting for DeVos, who gave his campaign nearly $58,000.)

6. DeVos cited graduation rates for online charter schools that are significantly higher than their official rates in a defense of those schools in response to Sen. Patty Murray.

Monday, Jan. 30

1. The Senate education committee is set to vote on DeVos’s confirmation tomorrow — and she’s likely to get the votes she needs. Here’s why.

2. Twenty years ago, DeVos quietly supported a transgender woman’s request to use the women’s restroom at a call center.

3. Does DeVos support teaching intelligent design? Comments she made at her confirmation hearing have left some observers concerned.

4. Some liberal Christians say DeVos isn’t right for the job because of a perceived lack of concern for students with disabilities.

Friday, Jan. 27

1. Democrats are going to vote as a bloc against DeVos, according to Minnesota Sen. Al Franken. (That still won’t be enough to keep her from being confirmed.) And several senators are asking for more information about donations made to her political organizations.

2. DeVos’s influence has stretched far beyond Michigan: the Orlando Sentinel says her extended family has spent $2 million in Florida politics and that she helped get that state’s voucher program off the ground.

3. Special education advocates are playing an unusually large role in DeVos’s confirmation fight.

4. Should it matter that DeVos’s school-choice advocacy group never paid a $5.3 million fine levied against it in Ohio? Some of Cleveland’s editorial writers think so.

Thursday, Jan. 26

1. DeVos is expected to be confirmed. But some Senators have received tens of thousands of emails, letters, and phone calls opposing her nomination.

2. Sen. Elizabeth Warren says she’s supporting Ben Carson’s nomination to lead the federal housing department in order to be able to “turn up the heat” on DeVos.

3. After stumbling over a question about the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act during her confirmation hearing, DeVos tried to reassure a lawmaker this week that she understood the law and was committed to enforcing it.

4. DeVos’s empire includes investments in Whole Foods, energy bars made of crickets, and lumber manufacturers. There’s also a Gary Busey connection.

5. From the National Review: The U.S. education system is too unwieldy to respond to anything but one big, bold idea like school choice, DeVos’s focus.

Wednesday, Jan. 25

1. A lot of Senators have issued statements about why they will or won’t support DeVos’s confirmation. Here’s a vote tracker so you can keep up.

2. DeVos’s family spokesman says she supports gay marriage. She faced sharp questioning during her confirmation hearing about her family’s support of groups that have promoted “conversion therapy.”

3. A recent report showing that the Obama administration’s school-improvement grants didn’t work might help DeVos advance her own very different agenda.

4. DeVos’s lack of personal experience with public education actually makes her an outlier among Trump’s cabinet picks.

Tuesday, Jan. 24

1. DeVos will have a chance to make around 150 political appointments to the education department, Ed Week reports. Many might not have worked in education.

2. Sen. Lamar Alexander defended school vouchers as not being “subversive or new” in a speech (and Medium post) urging his colleagues to confirm DeVos.

3. A Carnegie Mellon professor wonders whether DeVos’s backing of Neurocore, which hasn’t published evidence about the efficacy of its treatments for ADHD and other conditions, spells trouble for education research.

Monday, Jan. 23

1. DeVos isn’t getting the second confirmation hearing that Democrats wanted. Her vote was delayed, though, to give senators time to parse a very lengthy ethics agreement. Look for a vote on Jan. 31.

2. She isn’t selling her interest in Neurocore, a company that claims to help people deal with issues like attention deficit disorder with “biofeedback technology.”

3. DeVos’s remarks on grizzly bears and guns in schools led to snickers, protest signs, and plenty of outrage among gun-control advocates. But officials in Wyoming don’t think the idea is ridiculous at all.

Catching up: Chalkbeat’s DeVos coverage up to now

• Where it all started: What you should know about Betsy DeVos, Trump’s education secretary pick — and what her choice might tell us about his plans.

• The first thing DeVos did after being nominated: clarify that she really doesn’t like the Common Core standards.

• DeVos’ appointment would end decades of a bipartisan education policy consensus. Here’s what the moment feels like from inside the reform movement.

• We had a lot of questions before DeVos’s confirmation hearing. She didn’t answer all of them — but she did seek to appear mainstream, her bear fears notwithstanding.

• Many Detroit school supporters blame DeVos for policies that have led to the dire state of their schools. They’re onto something — but the truth is a little more complicated.

• Remember: The biggest upcoming decisions about schools won’t come from the Trump administration, and they won’t be made by DeVos. They’ll happen in state legislatures.

• Learn about Indiana’s voucher program, which mirrors what DeVos has pushed for (and increasingly serves middle-class families). She’s influenced Tennessee’s program, too.

• DeVos got invited to Colorado, so lawmakers there could show her another vision of school choice.

devos watch

Asked again about school staff referring students to ICE, DeVos says ‘I don’t think they can’

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos testifies during a Senate Appropriations Subcommittee hearing on Capitol Hill, June 5, 2018 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

Pressed to clarify her stance on whether school staff could report undocumented students to immigration authorities, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos avoided giving a clear answer before eventually saying, “I don’t think they can.”

It was an odd exchange before the U.S. Senate Appropriations Subcommittee, during a hearing that was meant to focus on budget issues but offered a prime opportunity for Senate Democrats to grill DeVos on other topics.

Chris Murphy, a Democratic senator from Connecticut, focused on DeVos’s comments a few weeks ago at House hearing where she said that it was “a school decision” whether to report undocumented students to Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Civil rights groups responded sharply, calling it an inaccurate description of the department’s own rules and the Supreme Court case, Plyler v. Doe, that says schools must educate undocumented students.

In a statement after that hearing, DeVos seemed to walk back her comments, saying, “Schools are not, and should never become, immigration enforcement zones.” DeVos also referenced the Plyler case on Tuesday, while initially avoiding multiple chances to offer a yes or no response to whether school officials could call ICE on a student.

In response to DeVos’s latest remarks, her spokesperson Liz Hill said, “She did not avoid the question and was very clear schools are not, and should not ever become, immigration enforcement zones. Every child should feel safe going to school.”

Here’s the full exchange between DeVos and Murphy:

Murphy: Let me ask you about a question that you were presented with in a House hearing around the question of whether teachers should refer undocumented students to ICE for immigration enforcement. In the hearing I think you stated that that should be up to each individual state or school district. And then you released a follow-up statement in which you said that, ‘our nation has both a legal and moral obligation to educate every child,’ and is well-established under the Supreme Court’s ruling in Plyler and has been in my consistent position since day one. I’m worried that that statement is still not clear on this very important question of whether or not a teacher or a principal is allowed to call ICE to report an undocumented student under federal law. Can a teacher or principal call ICE to report an undocumented student under current federal law?

DeVos: I will refer back again to the settled case in Plyler vs. Doe in 1982, which says students that are not documented have the right to an education. I think it’s incumbent on us to ensure that those students have a safe and secure environment to attend school, to learn, and I maintain that.

Murphy: Let me ask the question again: Is it OK – you’re the secretary of education, there are a lot of schools that want guidance, and want to understand what the law is — is it OK for a teacher or principal to call ICE to report an undocumented student?

DeVos: I think a school is a sacrosanct place for student to be able to learn and they should be protected there.

Murphy: You seem to be very purposefully not giving a yes or no answer. I think there’s a lot of educators that want to know whether this is permissible.

DeVos: I think educators know in their hearts that they need to ensure that students have a safe place to learn.

Murphy: Why are you so — why are you not answering the question?

DeVos: I think I am answering the question.

Murphy: The question is yes or no. Can a principal call ICE on a student? Is that allowed under federal law? You’re the secretary of education.

DeVos: In a school setting, a student has the right to be there and the right to learn, and so everything surrounding that should protect that and enhance that student’s opportunity and that student’s environment.

Murphy: So they can’t call ICE?

DeVos: I don’t think they can.

Murphy: OK, thank you.

DeVos in Detroit

Betsy DeVos’s first Detroit visit featured Girl Scouts, robots, and talk of beluga whales

PHOTO: Kimberly Hayes Taylor
U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos takes pictures on her phone during the FIRST Robotics World Championship, held in Detroit on April 27, 2018.

Betsy DeVos was all smiles on Friday as she toured the world’s largest robotics competition and congratulated student contestants.

The event was her first visit to Detroit as education secretary. DeVos, a Michigan-based philanthropist before joining the cabinet, has a long history of involvement with the city’s education policies.

It was a friendly environment for the secretary, who has often faced protesters who disagree with her stance on private school vouchers or changes to civil rights guidance at public events. (Even her security protection appeared to be in a good mood on Friday.)

Here are four things we noticed about DeVos’s visit to downtown and the FIRST Robotics World Championship.

1. She got to talk to some local students after all.

DeVos didn’t visit any Detroit schools, and didn’t answer any questions from reporters about education in Michigan. But as she toured the junior LEGO competition, she did stop to talk to a handful of Girl Scouts from the east side of the city.

PHOTO: Kimberly Hayes Taylor

2. She knows a thing or two about beluga whales.

She also stopped to stop to chat with students from Ann Arbor who called themselves the Beluga Builders and designed a water park that economizes water. DeVos asked how they came up with their name, and they told her how much they love the whales. “They have big humps on their heads, right?” DeVos said. “Yes,” they answered in unison.

3. She is an amateur shutterbug.

She stopped often during her tour to shoot photos and videos with her own cell phone. She took photos of the elementary and middle school students’ LEGO exhibits and photos of the robotics competition.

PHOTO: Kimberly Hayes Taylor

4. She was eager to put forth a friendly face.

As she stopped by students’ booths, she often knelt down to children’s eye level. When she posed for group pictures, she directed students into position. And she shook lots of hands, asking kids questions about their projects.