Franken says Trump's education pick seems 'unfamiliar with basic issues'

"Her lack of basic knowledge astounded me," Franken says.
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Betsy DeVos did not make a very good impression on Sen. Al Franken during her confirmation hearing at the U.S. Capitol this week.

DeVos is President-elect Trump's choice to head the U.S. Department of Education. Franken sits on the committee that questioned DeVos during Tuesday night's confirmation hearing. He announced Wednesday he considers DeVos unqualified to be education secretary and will vote against her.

The Minnesota Democrat posted that the hearing left him deeply troubled because DeVos "seemed unfamiliar with some of the most basic issues in education today."

One widely shared exchange includes Franken asking DeVos if she thinks standardized tests should measure growth (a student's progress over the course of a school year) or proficiency (the student's grade level).

When DeVos struggles with the distinction, Franken responds by saying "This is a subject that has been debated in the education community for years …. It surprises me that you don't know this issue."

DeVos is a billionaire philanthropist known for her work to expand charter schools and allow families to use tax dollars at private or religious schools. She has never worked in public education.

Each senator on the Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions had five minutes to question DeVos. The Washington Post says Franken was among several Democrats who asked for more time but the committee's chair, Sen. Lamar Alexander, refused.

Franken used some of his time to confront DeVos about donations to groups the senator said are anti-LGBT. He said DeVos and her family have donated $10 million to Focus on the Family, a group Franken says supports conversion therapy – the medically discredited idea that gay people can be converted into going straight.

But DeVos told the senator she does not believe in conversion therapy and said all students should feel safe in school.

When DeVos raised doubts about Franken's characterization of her family's donations, he responded by correcting an earlier statement she'd made on the increase in student debt. Franken said in eight years debt has grown by 118 percent, not nearly 1,000 percent as DeVos suggested.

He added: "I’m just asking if you’re challenging my figures, I would ask that you get your figures straight about education policy..."

Supporters of DeVos include Sen. Joseph Lieberman, a Democrat who argues her status as an outsider to public education is an asset, the Post reports.

Franken's full questioning of DeVos can be seen in the video below.

Earlier this evening, I questioned Betsy DeVos, President-elect Trump's nominee for Secretary of Education, and was deeply troubled by the fact that she seemed unfamiliar with some of the most basic issues in education today.

Ms. DeVos repeatedly refused to answer questions, let alone offer specifics. That was not what the American people needed to hear. They deserved to see her demonstrate that she understands and can successfully address the profoundly difficult challenges ordinary families face every day when it comes to education: things like making sure their kids are prepared for the 21st century economy, addressing student loan debt, and ensuring kids feel safe in school.

Posted by U.S. Senator Al Franken on Tuesday, January 17, 2017

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