Bernie Sanders Just Grilled Trump's Education Secretary Pick Over Free College

Proponents of free college and early childhood education won't have an ally in Betsy DeVos.

President-elect Donald Trump and Betsy DeVos.

President-elect Donald Trump's education secretary pick was grilled on the issue by Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders.

While DeVos didn't directly express opposition to Sanders' proposals, she nevertheless made it clear that doesn't support the concept of free higher education or childcare.

Sanders first asked DeVos if she thinks public colleges and universities should be free, a platform that was a focal point for Sanders during his presidential run.

"Some of us believe that we should make public colleges and universities tuition free so that every young person in this country, regardless of income, does have that option. That's not the case today," he said. "Will you work with me and others to make public colleges and universities tuition free though federal and state efforts?"


DeVos responded by saying she found the idea "interesting," but added that nothing is "truly free."

"Senator I think that's a really interesting idea and I think it's really great to consider and think about, but I think we also have to consider the fact that there's nothing in life that's truly free," she said. "Somebody's going to pay for it."

Sanders responded by insisting that the government should pay for it, and he lamented proposals to lower taxes for "billionaires in this country while at the same time low-income kids can't afford to go to college."

He asked her two more times if public college tuition should be free; DeVos deflected both times.

"Senator I think we can work together and we could work hard on making sure that college or higher education in some form is affordable for all young people that want to pursue it and I would look forward to that opportunity if confirmed," she said.

Despite the deflections, Twitter users on both sides of the issue took DeVos' responses to be opposition to free college tuition.

Sanders then asked if DeVos would support universal childcare.


"There are countries around the world which do provide universal, very inexpensive, for free childcare, he said. "Would you work with me in moving our government in that direction?"

DeVos would only say she supports families having "opportunities."

"Senator again, I feel very strongly about the importance of young families having an opportunity for good childcare for their children," she said. "I'm not sure that's part of the education department."

Sanders responded by arguing that providing an "opportunity" for early childhood care was not particularly useful to a family who cannot afford to pay for it.

"It's not a question of opportunity, it's a question of being able to afford it," Sanders said. "How do we help somebody who's making 8 or 9 bucks an hour at a time when we can't raise the minimum wage yet because of Republican opposition? How do we make sure that those moms can get quality child care they can afford?"

DeVos is correct to argue that there is no such thing as "free" education. Sanders himself acknowledged this during his presidential run by proposing taxes on "Wall Street speculation."

But Sanders and DeVos differ on who should bear the burden of paying for education programs.


Sanders believes the government should impose taxes that generate funds for education and DeVos believes in a "free market" approach. There's also no denying that the ballooning cost of higher education has a major impact on the economy. Student debt has slowed and even blocked young people's abilities to buy a home, stops innovation, and keeps young people from important, but lesser paying jobs like social work, according to a 2015 CNBC report.

"You wind up disadvantaged just as you begin. It has reduced the ability of our educational system to be a force for upward mobility, and for an equitable chance at upward mobility," Melinda Lewis, associate professor of the practice at the University of Kansas School of Social Welfare told CNBC at the time. "It is still true that you are better positioned if you go to college, but you are not as much better positioned if you have to go to college with debt."

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