U.S. Sen. Gary Peters (D-Michigan) spoke on his opposition to the nomination of Betsy DeVos to the position of United States Secretary of Education from the floor of the U.S. Senate yesterday. Following are his remarks:
“Mr. President, I rise today to speak in opposition to the nomination of Betsy DeVos for Secretary of Education.
“My reason is simple: Mrs. DeVos lacks the experience required to oversee the Department of Education, an agency that serves over 50 million public school children in America.
“Despite spending many years giving hundreds of millions of dollars to backing political candidates and ballot initiatives that support unproven education policies, she remains shockingly unfamiliar with federal law and even basic education concepts.
“Educating our children is an incredibly important job and we need someone who is experienced, prepared and well qualified to lead the Department of Education.
“As I have said before, Mrs. DeVos has no experience in public education at any level, not as a teacher, not as an administrator, not as a student or parent, not as a school board member and not even as a borrower of public loans for college.
“Ask any parent, our children are what we hold most dear.
“It only makes sense that the individual we entrust with our children’s education should have at least some experience in public education.
“Mrs. DeVos has absolutely no experience, I repeat, no tangible experience with neighborhood public schools.
“In fact, her only experience in education is her work lobbying for the transfer of taxpayer money to private schools. She has also pushed for the rapid expansion of charter schools without sufficient accountability to parents and students.
“Which brings me to her track record, in my home state of Michigan, Mrs. DeVos pushed for school vouchers to send our public tax dollars to private schools.
“Her staunch advocacy for the use of taxpayer funding for private and charter school systems earned her the nickname, the ‘four-star general of the pro-voucher movement.’
“The vast majority of children in Michigan and in the United States attend neighborhood public schools. Voucher programs rob these children of the resources they need to receive a high quality education near where they live.
“Michigan voters soundly rejected her plan and we cannot, I repeat, we cannot put her in a position to push for voucher programs on a national scale that will weaken our neighborhood schools and will weaken, in particular, our rural schools.
“Let me be clear, I support innovative models for improving our education system, but only when those models are proven to work.
“For example, I have worked hard to ensure all children have access to the skills and education that are vital to joining the modern workforce and competing in today’s global economy.
“I introduced legislation that will reduce the price tag for higher learning by allowing students to complete college-level courses while they are still in a public high school.
“The Making Education Affordable and Accessible Act will help students save time and money as they kick-start their careers through a personalized curriculum.
“Whether an early/middle college program or a dual and concurrent enrollment program, these models help traditional public school students save money and get ahead by earning college credit while they finish their high school education.
“These programs are typically run by local school districts or intermediate school districts and are offered at little to no cost to the student.
“They also help students identify their major or interest area sooner so that they can complete their college degree and graduate as much as a year early.
“Across the state of Michigan, students are participating in more than 90 early or middle college programs, programs that are proven to significantly increase high school graduation rates.
“Jobs for the Future found that nationally, 90% of early college students graduate high school, versus the 78% national graduation rate.
“This is just one example of the kind of innovative approach with proven results that policymakers should support to improve educational outcomes.
“Education reform must be driven by data and validated outcomes, not a political ideology.
“Our primary focus must always be on increasing opportunities for the millions of students in our neighborhood public schools.
“And given Mrs. DeVos’ history of supporting policies that undermine traditional public schools and the communities they serve, I do not think she would act in the best interests of American students.
“Mr. President, Michigan has been devoted to great public education for generations, a commitment that stretches back to even before the founding of our state.
“Some of our state’s earliest pioneers, including my ancestors, settled under the guidance of the Northwest Ordinance, which stated, and I quote ‘schools and the means of education shall forever be encouraged.’
“Our nation has strived to live up to this creed ever since, honoring the fundamental truth that all of our children have the right to an education, no matter who they are, where they live, how much money their parents have or how they learn.
“Government at all levels, state, local, and federal, share the responsibility of ensuring our children have access to a quality education.
“In addition to providing significant federal dollars to local school districts, the federal government plays a critical role in preventing discrimination and creating opportunity.
“Federal education laws play a vital role in ensuring that all students have equal access to learning opportunities, laws like the landmark 1975 Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, or I.D.E.A.
“Before the enactment of I.D.E.A., too many of our children with disabilities were denied the chance to learn within our broader communities.
“Likewise, our broader communities were denied the chance to learn from these youth and the extraordinary perspectives and contributions they offer to American society.
“Now, thanks to I.D.E.A., 6.5 million of our kids, or 13 percent of all public school students, are not condemned to a life of isolation or mere accommodation.
“Instead, federal law ensures every child has access to the resources he or she needs to become productive and included members of our increasingly diverse 21st century society.
“I.D.E.A. assists public schools with offering high-quality special education and early intervention services for children with disabilities from birth to age 21.
“As a result, I.D.E.A. is responsible for millions of youth with disabilities graduating from high school, enrolling in college, and finding jobs as valuable participants in the American economy.
“But I.D.E.A. will not enforce itself.
“It is the responsibility of the Department of Education and its leadership to monitor, evaluate, and provide technical assistance to states, making sure our schools are offering learning opportunities that meet every student’s needs.
“It is the responsibility of the Senate to determine whether or not Mrs. DeVos can carry out this task and live up the creed of ‘forever encouraging’ education.
“Unfortunately, Mrs. DeVos has demonstrated little comprehension of the federal role in protecting students with disabilities’ equal right to an education.
“This became evident when she was asked directly about I.D.E.A. during her confirmation hearing, and Mrs. DeVos tried to excuse her erroneous answer by saying, I quote ‘I may have confused it.’
“Now, every student knows the importance of doing their homework, studying for their exams, and practicing for any class presentations in advance.
“Every educator knows that the answer ‘I may have confused it’ is not a response that leads to a passing grade.
“With the stakes as high as they are, it is clear that Mrs. DeVos did not do her homework.
“She did not study for her potential role, she did not practice for her interview with the Senate Committee and, most importantly, the American people.
“She has contributed millions of dollars to Republican politicians over the years and probably thought that this was the only qualification she needed. We need to prove to the American people that she is wrong.
“I take my responsibility under the US Constitution to provide advice and consent to the President very seriously. And I know my colleagues here in the Senate do as well.
“Given Mrs. Devos’ weak performance in her interview before the American people and her inability to demonstrate a basic understanding of key education concepts, I do not think that we can give her a passing grade.
“As Senators, we do not operate under a model of social promotion, under which we pass an unqualified individual to a higher office simply because they showed up.
“Perhaps this is why Mrs. DeVos’s nomination is expected to see the most bipartisan opposition to her confirmation of all of the President’s nominees to date.
“Mr. President, Mrs. DeVos’ response regarding I.D.E.A. during her confirmation hearing was not the only response that I found alarming.
“As the father of two college-aged daughters I am extremely concerned about ensuring our college campuses provide safe environments where students can learn and grow.
“I was shocked by a recent comprehensive report done by one school that found over 20 percent of female undergraduates experienced unwanted sexual contact.
“Sadly, this problem is not confined to one school. It is a public safety and health crisis that we must immediately take action to address.
“The Department of Education has taken important first steps to combat the prevalence of campus sexual assault by opening investigations in over 200 schools and publishing guidance to ensure universities are affording students Title IX protections, the freedom from discrimination on the basis of sex and freedom from sexual violence.
“Mrs. DeVos apparently has a different reaction to the threats many young students face while pursuing their higher education.
“As we saw during her confirmation hearing, she said it is, quote ‘premature’ for her to say if she will choose to uphold the Department of Education’s guidance on preventing sexual violence.
“This is completely unacceptable to me as a Senator representing over 500,000 undergraduate students attending one of Michigan’s outstanding colleges and universities, and this is completely unacceptable to me as a father.
“It’s also unacceptable in the eyes of over one thousand graduates of the same school in Michigan that Mrs. DeVos attended herself, Calvin College.
“Calvin College alumni from Class of 1947 to Class of 2020 sent my office an extensive petition expressing their deep concern with Mrs. DeVos’ nomination.
“In their letter, these alumni presented several reasons they oppose Mrs. DeVos’ confirmation. Specifically, they expressed concerns that she does not understand or support the many federal policies, like I.D.E.A. and Title IX, she would be required to enforce.
“They wrote, and I quote ‘This is especially concerning, given that the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act and Title XI, which ensure that all students’ educational experiences are free of discrimination that impedes learning, are not of value to Mrs. DeVos.’ End quote.
“I could not agree more with her fellow alumni.
“My office has received over eight thousand calls in opposition to the nomination of Betsy DeVos and I am sure my colleagues have also heard from thousands and thousands of their own constituents.
“The American people are making their voices heard, and they are telling the U.S. Senate that Mrs. DeVos is not the right choice to lead the Department of Education.
“I urge my colleagues to listen to their constituents who are forcefully rejecting Mrs. DeVos’ misguided vision for neighborhood public schools in America.
“I will be standing with the people of Michigan and I once again call on my colleagues to join the bipartisan opposition to Mrs. DeVos’ nomination. Our children’s futures depend on it – for their sake, vote no.”