(KMSP) - Betsy DeVos was sworn in as Education Secretary Tuesday evening, hours after Vice-President Mike Pence cast the deciding vote for her confirmation.
"Having seen your devotion to the quality of education to some of our most vulnerable children across the nation for so many years, I was also casting a vote for America's children,” Pence said to Devos during the ceremony. “And I can tell you, my vote for Betsy Devos was the easiest vote I've ever cast."
DeVos' nomination sparked fierce backlash from Democrats and educators across the country. The phone lines at the offices of U.S. Senators were jammed as people called to voice their opposition to DeVos. Two Republican Senators cast ballots against DeVos, forcing the tie.
While DeVos spent decades as an advocate for charter schools and vouchers in her home state of Michigan and across the country, she's never actually been a teacher or school administrator.
While Devos' critics are concerned she would spread use her new position to implement her ideas across the country, Hamline University political science professor David Schultz said there are limits to what she can do.
“Probably more than anything else, it’s the bully pulpit,” Schultz said. “She can go out there and she can try to talk up different ideas, try to encourage things, but in terms of actual substantive authority it's actually quite limited.”
That's because education policy, and funding, largely happen at the state and local level, not in Washington.
Schultz says only 8.5% of all K-12 funding in the country comes from the federal government, a chunk of that earmarked to help students with disabilities or schools with high percentages of low income students.
“She has talked about wanting the money to follow the students and not follow the schools, but again these are all things that have to be done at the statutory level, the congressional level in order for that to occur,” Shultz said. “She just can't do that on her own.”
The department does play a big role in student loans and financial aid for college, but Schultz said Devos’ role in reforms could be limited in that area as well.
“Students need to be able to come up with more ways to finance education, we have over a trillion dollars, these are issues I'm not sure she can have a major impact on, again with a change in congressional funding,” Schultz said.
The department has a budget of about $69 billion this fiscal year.