Devos confirmation as Secretary of Education a blow to students with disabilities

On February 7, 2017, Vice President Pence broke a U.S. Senate deadlock, voting to confirm Betsy DeVos as Secretary of Education. DeVos was confirmed despite deep concerns and heavy protest from disability and education advocates, and despite no votes from two Republican Senators, Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska.

During the confirmation process, DeVos failed to demonstrate a thorough knowledge of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, a civil rights law which guarantees that students with disabilities have access to a free and appropriate education. Asked if schools receiving tax dollars should be accountable to the law, she said that it is a “matter that’s best left to the states.” DeVos later acknowledged her confusion and wrote a letter committing to the enforcement of the law. Yet, based upon her record and her lack of experience with public schools, DeVos gives no indication she will follow through on that commitment.

“It’s important to have laws such as IDEA, the Americans with Disabilities Act, and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act on the books,” said Amber Smock, Director of Advocacy at Access Living. “But in order for the law to be effective, the law needs a Secretary of Education to promote implementation and enforcement. DeVos has illustrated she is not an advocate of the law or an ally to people with disabilities, nor has she even shown a deep understanding of the law.”

In addition to her background on civil rights laws, DeVos’ promotion of school vouchers has raised red flags within the disability community. In a note published in early February, Smock wrote, "Ms. DeVos has a long history of supporting the use of public money to provide vouchers that parents can use at private schools. Most of the state voucher and school choice programs have one thing in common: when a family accepts a voucher, they lose IDEA civil rights protections for their children with disabilities."

Disappointed by the confirmation of Betsy DeVos, Access Living will continue to dedicate services, community organizing, policy, and legal resources to support students with disabilities throughout all levels of education.

For more information, contact Gary Arnold at 312-640-2199 (voice), 773-425-2536 (mobile), (email).


Gary Arnold
Public Affairs Manager