WASHINGTON ― President Donald Trump’s pick to lead the nation’s education system, Betsy DeVos, appears to have copied lines from statutes and other sources in her written answers submitted to a Senate committee, according to a copy of the document and a review of those other sources.
The lifting of passages was first reported by The Washington Post on Tuesday, though The Huffington Post had been alerted to these instances by sources opposing her nomination. It could cloud DeVos’ nomination process, but Republican senators have stood by her even after what was widely considered a shaky committee hearing. Later Tuesday morning, the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee voted 12-11 along party lines to advance DeVos’ nomination to the full Senate.
In her submitted responses to Democrats on the committee, DeVos did not cite or footnote the phrases or sentences that, at times, she copied verbatim. For example, in response to a question on whether she believes federal funds should be directed toward mental health, academic and support programs for schools, DeVos’ first sentence is practically identical to a statement from a deputy assistant attorney general with the Justice Department.
“Every child deserves to attend school in a safe, supportive environment where they can learn, thrive and grow,” DeVos wrote.
And here’s what Vanita Gupta, former acting head of the DOJ’s Civil Rights Division said in May: “Every child deserves to attend school in a safe, supportive environment that allows them to thrive and grow.”
Elsewhere in her responses, DeVos appeared to take a line straight from the Department of Education’s website.
“Opening a complaint for investigation in no way implies that the Office for Civil Rights (OCR) has made a determination about the merits of the complaint,” DeVos wrote.
An online FAQ page on how the Education Department handles complaints states: “Opening a complaint for investigation in no way implies that OCR has made a determination with regard to the merits of the complaint.”
Asked whether she would maintain guidance on how schools can use their Title II funds under the Every Student Succeeds Act, DeVos appears to have copied statutory language referenced on a Georgia Department of Education website.
“Congress took steps under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) to provide states and local school districts with more flexibility in how they use federal funds, including under the Title II-A program, to improve the quality and effectiveness of teachers, principals, and other school leaders,” DeVos wrote, mentioning the law, but no official citation.
The Georgia DOE website says the purpose of Title II is “to improve the quality and effectiveness of teachers, principals and other school leaders.”
Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) alluded to DeVos’ use of uncited sources as the committee met to vote on her nomination Tuesday.
“We just received responses to hundreds of written questions yesterday — less than 24 hours before a scheduled vote — and with no time for full review and to ask any follow-up questions,” Murray said. “Though, I will say — upon initial review, many of the responses look copied and pasted from previous statements, or are simple reiterations of the law and not true responses at all.”
Taken as a whole, DeVos’ responses represent, at a minimum, sloppy or lazy prep work on her part or that of her staff. At its worst, it opens her up to accusations of plagiarism. It also reinforces a criticism that DeVos has faced: that she hasn’t given much thought to the issues at the heart of the department she is in line to lead.
Rob Goad, a White House official, called the attacks by Democrats and accusations of plagiarism a “character assassination” later Tuesday.
“The Secretary designate has long been referencing the need for safe and supportive learning environments, free of discrimination, for all students, so that they can learn, achieve, thrive, grow, and lead successful productive lives,” Goad said in an emailed statement. “To level an accusation against her about these words included in responses to nearly 1,400 questions ― 139 alone from the ranking member ― is simply a desperate attempt to discredit Betsy DeVos, who will serve the Department of Education and our nation’s children with distinction if confirmed.”
While Democrats have been highly critical of DeVos’ nomination, going so far as to say she would gut public education in America, no Republican senator has come out in opposition.
DeVos’ family has been a major donor to Republican causes over the years.
This article has been updated with the committee vote and a comment from Goad.