Democratic Senators Grill Education Department Nominees

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Rob Shimshock Education Reporter
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Democratic senators grilled two Education Department nominees on school choice and transgender bathroom issues Wednesday in Senate confirmation hearings.

The Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions questioned former brigadier general and South Carolina state superintendent Mitchell Zais, nominated to be Education Secretary Betsy DeVos’ deputy secretary, as well as school reform president and director James Blew, whom the department tapped to become assistant secretary for planning, evaluation, and policy development, reported The Washington Post.

Zais claimed it is best for parents to pick the right school for their children, however, Democratic Sen. Al Franken of Minnesota said, “No, that is not true.” Franken cited a New York Times article reporting that school voucher programs in Ohio, Indiana, and Louisiana resulted in lower reading and math test scores for students.

“I was unaware of those studies that you cited,” said Zais.

Franken asked him about transgender students’ using bathrooms aligning with gender identity.

“I believe firmly that no child should be subjected to bullying, abuse and intimidation, and that includes transgender students,” said Zais. The deputy secretary nominee also said he did not know whether LGBT “is a protected class” or how the law addressed it.

“Well, that is the law,” said Franken. “So you will enforce it?”

Zais said he would work with Franken and DeVos.

Democratic Sen. Patty Murray of Washington state was unimpressed that Zais held views similar to the Education Secretary regarding privatization and also critiqued the nominee’s alleged remarks that five-year-old children are not mature enough to learn and that creationism and abstinence-only sex education belonged in schools. She also questioned Zais’ rejection of federal funding for South Carolinian schools when he was the state superintendent.

Murray also rebuked Blew for his endorsement of school vouchers and Democratic Sen. Tim Kaine of Virginia noted surprise when both nominees told him before the hearing they could not share their job descriptions because of an Education Department “firewall.”

Only one Republican senator, chairman Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, was present for the hearing.

The Daily Caller News Foundation reached out to the Department of Education for comment, but received none in time for press.

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