Betsy DeVos blasted by civil rights, education groups

Hundreds of civil rights and education groups released a letter to Senate lawmakers Monday opposing President Donald Trump's nomination of Betsy DeVos for education secretary, calling into question her ability to enforce federal education laws for low-income students and students of color.

"When compared with secretaries of education throughout the history of the department, DeVos' lack of experience stands out," says the letter, signed by nearly 250 national, state and local civil rights and education groups. "She has never been an educator or worked directly with children and families in public schools. She has never led a school, district or state agency tasked with educating students. She has never been a public school parent or a public school student. This lack of experience makes her uniquely unfamiliar with the challenges and opportunities facing the nation's students, families, educators and schools."

The letter, which was spearheaded by The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, comes as the Senate education committee is set to vote on DeVos' nomination Tuesday morning.

Among the high-profile groups who are signatories to the letter are the NAACP; national teachers unions the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers; the National Council of La Raza; and the Children's Defense Fund.

DeVos is praised by conservative school-choice supporters for her advocacy of voucher programs, and Sen. Lamar Alexander – a Tennessee Republican, chairman of the education committee and himself the education secretary under President George H. W. Bush – has been steadfast in supporting her nomination.

But the Michigan billionaire is arguably the most embattled of Trump's Cabinet picks, and her performance testifying in front of the committee earlier this month was widely panned by education experts on both sides of the aisle and seen as revealing worrisome gaps in her understanding of simple education policy issues.

Last week, Senate Democrats vowed to vote against DeVos' nomination en bloc and have been strategizing about how to recruit three Republicans in order to block her. To be confirmed, nominees need the support of 51 senators – or 50 senators and the presumed tiebreaking vote of Vice President Mike Pence – and Democrats currently hold 48 seats.

"The secretary of education should be committed to policies and practices that make schools safe and welcoming for all children who spend most of every day there," said Wade Henderson, president and CEO of the leadership conference. "Betsy DeVos has failed to demonstrate that she is qualified to do that job or that she understands what the job requires."

Copyright 2016 U.S. News & World Report