Betsy DeVos resigns, citing violent unrest in Capitol

Dive Brief:

  • U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos announced her resignation Thursday, citing the mob attack at the nation’s Capitol that delayed the process of certifying the presidential election results for several hours.

  • DeVos was one of the most contentious but enduring members of President Donald Trump’s cabinet. She wrote in a letter to the president that Wednesday’s violent protests were “the inflection point” for her.

  • Her tenure was characterized by the rollback and replacement of prominent Obama-era rules and guidance, including around how colleges respond to sexual assaults, as well as oversight of for-profit colleges.

Dive Insight:

DeVos, a billionaire and longtime GOP supporter, had a rocky start in the Trump administration, beginning with her high-profile confirmation hearings during which she infamously stumbled over basic questions from lawmakers and cited the need for guns in K-12 schools to protect them from grizzly bears.

She was a widely unpopular pick among legislators and education groups on the left. She barely passed muster with the Senate during her confirmation, with Vice President Mike Pence needing to serve as the tie-breaking vote.

While DeVos is perhaps best known for her advocacy of school choice in the K-12 realm, she introduced several notable regulations that confounded higher education.

Her rules governing Title IX, the federal law banning sex discrimination on campuses, were panned for years before taking effect last year. They limited the scope of cases colleges would need to investigate and narrowed the definition of sexual harassment.

She also introduced regulations on accreditation and distance learning and furthered the Trump administration’s crackdown on institutions’ financial ties to foreign entities, launching probes into more than a dozen high-profile universities.

DeVos rescinded Obama-era regulations tightening oversight of for-profit institutions, and she consistently refused to honor borrower defense claims. That process enables students who were misled by their institutions to have their loan debt forgiven.

Ted Mitchell, president of the American Council on Education, said in an interview Thursday night that DeVos’ policy changes around for-profits were perhaps the most damaging to the department. He also said she made “a complete hash” of Title IX.

“Her legacy is not going to be a strong one,” Mitchell said. “She has sacrificed student rights for ideological positions.”

DeVos wrote in a letter to Trump on Thursday that they “should be highlighting and celebrating your Administration’s many accomplishments on behalf of the American people.”

Instead, she continued, the administration is cleaning up a mess left by the violence.

“There is no mistaking the impact your rhetoric had on the situation, and it is the inflection point for me,” DeVos wrote. 

Her resignation takes effect Friday.

DeVos on Wednesday released a public statement calling for the violent unrest to end and Congress to fulfill its duties confirming the Electoral College vote. She also wrote a letter to federal lawmakers this month, urging them to support her choice agenda and not reverse the Title IX rules. 

Politico reported last month that DeVos urged career staff to “be the resistance” on policies that they perceived would hurt students after President-elect Joe Biden takes office. An Education Department spokesperson, in news reports, said Politico’s report was misleading and that DeVos did not intend for staff to undermine the new administration.

Biden nominated Miguel Cardona, the public schools chief in Connecticut, in late December to lead the Education Department. Mitchell said Thursday he was optimistic about Cardona’s ability to build the department back up and prioritize low-income students.

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