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Betsy DeVos at her confirmation hearing for Secretary of Education

Betsy DeVos at Tuesday's confirmation hearing. (Photo: Getty)

Betsy DeVos May Defund Public Ed—But Wants Guns in Schools to Fight Grizzlies

In a rushed confirmation hearing, billionaire Betsy DeVos's attempts to dodge tough questions occasionally entered the realm of absurdity

Nika Knight Beauchamp

Billionaire heiress and school privatization advocate Betsy DeVos faced withering scrutiny Tuesday at a rushed confirmation hearing for her nomination as secretary of education, often betraying her inexperience with education policy as she dodged Democrats' questions.

As she attempted to avoid the line of questioning, at one point DeVos refused to say whether or not she'd defund public schools.

Watch NBC News' footage of DeVos refusing to answer a series of questions about her donations to the Republican Party, her privatization agenda, and her total lack of government and policy experience:

DeVos was also the first of President-elect Donald Trump's cabinet picks to sit for a hearing without completing a full ethics review, a fact not lost on Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), who noted that without that review, the senators are unable to question the billionaire about how she stands to personally profit from education policy.

Democrats were also dismayed when Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), chairman of the Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, announced that he was limiting the questioning to "one round of five minutes for each senator," the New York Times writes, noting that the questioning in previous hearings had included two rounds.

During the hearing, Warren pointed out that DeVos has no experience at all with managing loans or grants—particularly on the scale of the federal loan and grant system, a system upon which poor, working- and middle-class students depend to pursue higher education:

And DeVos faced many pointed questions about her myriad conflicts of interest, such as when Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) asked DeVos if her family's contributions of hundreds of millions of dollars to the Republican Party perhaps played a role in her nomination for education secretary.

When Sanders went on to ask if DeVos would work with him to push for free college tuition, DeVos, who personally inherited billions, said, "I think that's a really interesting idea, and it's really great to consider and think about, but I think we also have to consider the fact that nothing in life is really free."

DeVos also refused to answer Sanders' questions about to how she plans to help people paid less than $15/hour—and the Republican Party is against raising the minimum wage, he points out—as they struggle to pay for the skyrocketing costs higher education and childcare:

At times DeVos even appeared entirely unfamiliar with major education laws, such as when Sen. Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.) asked DeVos whether her plan to decrease federal funds for schools meant she wouldn't enforce the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. DeVos had apparently never heard of it:

That was far from the most absurd moment of the hearing, observers noted: at one point, DeVos argued in favor of allowing guns in schools—citing the necessity of defending schools from grizzly bears. She mentioned a school in Wyoming that had a fence to protect it from wildlife, and said, "I think probably there, I would imagine that there's probably a gun in the school to protect from potential grizzlies."

"It's hard to imagine someone less qualified to oversee the nation's schools than Betsy DeVos," argued public education advocate Diane Ravitch earlier this month. "DeVos did not attend public schools, nor did her children. She has never been a teacher, administrator, practitioner or scholar of education. In fact, one wonders whether she has ever actually set foot in a public school."

"Betsy DeVos is a dedicated enemy of public education," Ravitch said on MSNBC Tuesday, "and 85 percent of this country's children are in public schools."

"Reason, knowledge, ethics—none of that matters here," wrote teacher and advocate Steven Singer after the hearing. "We are truly in the age of the plutocrats where money has arrogantly attempted to buy governmental power outright. Right in front of our noses."

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