Mr. President, I rise today to call on my colleagues to reject the nomination of Betsy DeVos as the next Secretary of Education.
It is difficult to imagine a worse choice to head the Department of Education. Betsy DeVos doesn't believe in public schools. Her only knowledge of student loans seems to come from her own financial investments connected to debt collectors who hound people struggling with student loans. And despite being a billionaire, she wants the chance to keep making money off shady investments while she runs the Department of Education.
We need someone in charge of the nation's education policy who knows what they're doing and who will put America’s young people first. And that is not Betsy DeVos.
Let's start with her record. Betsy DeVos has used her vast fortune to undermine Michigan’s public schools. She is sure she knows what's best for everyone else's children even though she has no actual experience with public schools.
In Michigan, the K-12 policy she bankrolled drained valuable taxpayer dollars out of the public schools and shunted that money into private schools, sketchy online schools and for-profit charter schools. Even worse, DeVos believes these schools should get the money with virtually no accountability for what these schools do with taxpayer dollars. The results have been a disaster for Michigan kids.
Let's be perfectly clear. This is not a debate about school choice. It is not a debate about charter schools. There are people on all sides of this debate who are genuinely pouring their hearts into improving educational outcomes for children. Massachusetts charter schools are among the very best in the country, and they understand the difference.
Before her nomination hearing, I received an extraordinary letter from the Massachusetts charter public school association. The letter outlines their opposition to charter public -- to Betsy DeVos' nomination citing her destructive record of promoting for-profit charter schools without strong oversight for how those schools serve students and families. People who work hard to build good charter schools with high accountability are offended by the DeVos nomination.
This abysmal record is troubling because the Secretary of Education is responsible for safeguarding the investments that the federal government makes in public schools. And for holding states accountable for delivering a good education for all their students, especially those who need the help the most. The secretary is also responsible for enforcing critical civil rights laws like the Elementary and Secondary Education Act and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.
But Betsy DeVos' confirmation hearing demonstrated to the entire world she is embarrassingly unprepared to enforce these laws. Her apparent unfamiliarity with these critical civil rights laws have terrified families who have children with special needs, terrified families in Massachusetts and all across the country. These parents are afraid that we could have an Education Secretary who doesn't even have a basic understanding of the federal laws that guarantee their kids a chance to receive a public school education.
We still have a long way to go to make sure that all kids in this country have a shot at a decent education, particularly children living in poverty, children of color, children with disabilities, and children who are immigrants or refugees. And that's why the federal government got involved in education in the first place, to make certain that all of our children -- not just some of them -- but all of our children get a chance at a first-rate education.
Public education dollars should come with some basic accountability for how that money is spent and some basic expectations about what we get in return for these investments. Not just doled out to some for-profit school that doesn't even meet basic standards in educating our children.
You know, this is also true in higher education where the financial stakes are huge for America’s college students. The Department of Education is in charge of making sure that the $150 billion that American taxpayers invest in students each year through grants and loans gets into the right hands and students get an education that will help them pay back their loans. The Student Aid Program is not well understood, but it is vitally important to get it right. Because the $1 trillion of student loan debt currently out there will impact the future of an entire generation.
Betsy DeVos has no experience in higher education. During her confirmation hearing, I gave her the opportunity to show that she is at least serious about standing up for students. I asked her basic, straightforward questions about her commitment to protecting students and taxpayers from fraud by these shady for-profit colleges. Her response was shocking. She refused to commit to use the department's many tools and resources to keep students from getting cheated when fraudulent colleges break the law. And in her responses to my written questions, she even refused to commit to doing what the law requires by canceling the loans of students who have been cheated by law-breaking colleges.
An Education Secretary who is unwilling to cut off federal aid to colleges that break the law and cheat students would be a disaster for both students and for taxpayers. Betsy DeVos' refusal to guarantee debt relief for defrauded students could leave thousands of Americans saddled with student loan debt that the law says they are not required to pay.
Betsy DeVos also refused to rule out privatizing the Direct Loan Program. Think about this one. As if our students don't have enough problems already, DeVos is ready to let Wall Street banks get their claws into our students and start charging extra profits on top of the already high cost of student loans. If Betsy DeVos won't commit to strengthening the federal Student Loan Program and running it for students, then she is absolutely unfit to be in charge of it.
I am also deeply concerned about the conflicts of interest and potential government corruption if Betsy DeVos is allowed to take the reins of the department of education. Betsy DeVos is a multibillionaire- and that's fine- but for her, that's apparently not enough. She already makes money off several businesses that could profit from decisions that she makes as secretary of education. Several businesses at least that we know about.
She says she'll get rid of the ones we know about, but she wants to keep her family trusts and whatever investments two of them hold a secret -- a secret from Congress and a secret from U.S. Taxpayers.
She says she doesn't have to follow the rules that everyone else follows and tell the Senate what her investments are or what they will be in those secret trusts.
I want you to think about that for just a minute. She already has billions of dollars, but she won't give up her secret trusts and her chance to make investments that could create conflicts of interest while she is running the Department of Education? Who exactly does Betsy DeVos want to help out? The young people of America or her own bank account?
You know, I really don't get this. I disagree with her education policies, but the one thing we ought to be able to agree on is that no one, and especially not some billionaire, ought to keep investments that go up or down in value depending on the decision she makes while she has a job working for the U.S. Government.
Because of that concern, I wrote a letter with several of my Democratic colleagues to raise concerns about her potential conflicts that aren't clearly resolved by her public ethics agreement. We asked her some simple questions about her lack of financial transparency and the shady investments that she plans to keep while she has a government job. And what did we get back? Nothing. Zero. Butkus. She thought our questions about basic ethics weren't even worth an answer.
Now, that stinks. This whole process stinks. And every step along the way, the Republicans have made it clear -- no matter her inexperience, no matter her radical views, no matter her potential conflicts of interest, no matter her secrecy, no matter her blowing off basic anticorruption practices, they will ram this nomination down the throats of the American people sideways.
Here are just a few egregious examples.
First, committee Democrats were allot allotted five minutes, five minutes total during her hearing to question Betsy DeVos on her troubling record. Republicans suddenly invented a new rule that we couldn't ask additional questions. You know, this is an important job. I asked President Obama’s Secretary of Education multiple rounds of questions, and he had led a public education system in the past. But I guess when a Republican nominee and a megadonor is in line to run education policy, we're all just supposed to fall in line and keep quiet.
Second, breaking with standard practice and what we did for President Obama’s education nominees, we were forced to hold Betsy DeVos' hearing before the ethics review of her billions was completed. The complicated ethics review raised a ton of additional questions, but we got absolutely no chance to question her about it.
Third, Betsy DeVos is the first nominee ever to go through the HELP Committee who has flat-out refused to fully disclose her financial holdings. She will be the first nominee in recent history to hold secret trusts. She was supposed to complete a form that requires nominees to list in detail all of their assets, investments and debts so that the committee has a full understanding of the nominee's potential conflicts of interest. Nope. She wants to keep many of her holdings in a family trust a secret, so she just won't tell.
And fourth, Republicans ignored and overrode the rules of the Senate in order to barely squeeze the DeVos nomination out of committee as quickly as possible. And now with at least 50 senators, Democrats, Republicans and Independents publicly opposed to this nomination, the Republican leadership has rigged the vote so that Senator Sessions can drag her across the finish line just before he is confirmed as Attorney General.
Why is Senator Sessions even voting on this nomination? It is a massive conflict of interest. As the Attorney General, Sessions will be responsible for enforcing the law against DeVos if her cesspool of unresolved financial conflicts results in illegal behavior. But apparently, the Republicans just don't care.
Let's face it. The Republican leadership wants DeVos, and they are willing to ignore her hostility to public schools, willing to ignore her indifference to laws that protect special needs kids, willing to ignore the giant ethical cloud that hangs over her, ignore it all so that billionaire and republican campaign contributor Betsy DeVos can be Secretary of Education.
The American people can see what's happening here.
I commend my Republican colleagues, Senators Collins and Murkowski, for standing up for what is right and saying they will vote against Betsy DeVos' nomination on the floor. I know how difficult it can be to stand up for what is right, even under overwhelming pressure from your own team just to keep your head down and go with the flow. They have been listening to the teachers and parents in their states, and I deeply respect their printed opposition to this -- their principled opposition to this nomination.
I've also heard from thousands of teachers and parents and education leaders in Massachusetts raising deep concerns about Betsy DeVos' nomination. I hear their concerns and I share their concerns.
You know, this isn't just political. This is deeply personal. It's personal for me. My first job out of college was as a teacher. I taught little ones, children with special needs in a public elementary school, and I have never lost my appreciation for the importance of strong public education because I’ve seen how public education opened a million doors for me, and I know it opens doors for young people in Massachusetts and all across this country. I believe that strengthening America’s public schools is critical for securing a better future for our children and for our grandchildren.
I also understand the vital role the Secretary of Education plays in making sure that every young person has real opportunities and a fighting chance to succeed.
We are one vote away from making sure that this job is not entrusted to Betsy DeVos, one vote.
We need just one more republican to stand up for the children of America, to stand up for public education, to stand up for college students, to stand up for basic decency and honesty in government.
Just one more Republican, and we can say that this Senate puts kids ahead of partisan politics.
Just one more Republican, and we can say that thisSenate still cares about public officials who put the public ahead of their own interests.
Just one more republican. That's all we need. Just one.
I assume that the rush to complete this nomination has something to do with the fact that Republicans' phones have been ringing off the hook from citizens who are outraged by the idea of this nomination.
Before these Republicans decide whether to help Donald Trump reward a wealthy donor by putting someone in charge of the Department of Education who doesn't really believe in public education, I want them to hear from the people of Massachusetts, the people who on their own have contacted me about this nomination.
I have received countless letters and calls from constituents in Massachusetts, including a batch of letters from a new local grassroots organization, Essex County Number Six Indivisible, who are very concerned that Betsy DeVos is a danger to our schools.
And so I just want to share a few of those letters with my colleagues right now.
I heard from Matt Hardin, who is a teacher from Plymouth, and he wrote this "I have been a teacher for 15 years and a parent for seven. I feel incredibly proud of the schools in the commonwealth of Massachusetts, and my view as a music educator is that it's not simply a job but a vocation. The recent referendum in the commonwealth regarding the expansion of cap on charter schools was soundly defeated by the electorate. I have grave concerns about Miss DeVos and her ties to corporate interest in education. Schools are not businesses and students are not products on an assembly line. This line of thinking is a clear and present danger to our students and reflects a lack of familiarity with the basic public education system. In this matter, my concerns are not limited to the borders of our own state but the equitable access to education across our nation. Ms. DeVos is not the right person to be an intellectual and educational leader for our nation. We need real change and ideas, not privatization and politicization of our youngest and most vulnerable citizens.”
I also heard from Alexandra Luge, a special education teacher from Cambridge. She had this to say, “I’m a special education teacher who works with children with developmental disabilities, and I urge you to vote against the confirmation of Betsy DeVos as Secretary of Education. I have grave concerns about the qualifications of Ms. DeVos due to her lack of experience in the public education system, as well as her record of support for charter and private schools that are not obligated to follow federal education standards or guidelines. Most urgently, as a professional who specializes in evaluating and treating children with autism, downs syndrome, learning disabilities, ADHD and other developmental and behavioral disorders, I am extremely concerned about Ms. DeVos' apparent lack of understanding of the individuals with disabilities education act, IDEA, the federal law that guarantees – quote-- a free and appropriate public education -- close quote -- to children with disabilities. During her confirmation hearing this week, Ms. DeVos appeared to be unfamiliar with IDEA, stating that she felt that enforcement of this federal law should be left up to the states. This is unacceptable and clearly indicates that Ms. DeVos is unqualified to serve as Secretary of Education. With approximately 13% of public school children in special education, it is essential that an education secretary be knowledgeable and supportive of the federal laws that guide special education services. Please vote no on Ms. DeVos' confirmation.”
Yes, Alexandra, yes. My office also heard from Diana Fullerton, a school adjustment counselor from Salem. Diana says she had never written to a politician before, but she felt strongly enough about Betsy DeVos to write this. "I am a school adjustment counselor in an elementary school in Gloucester. I have never gotten involved in politics until this election. I went to the Boston Women's March on Saturday and this is my first time writing to a politician. I am extremely concerned about Trump's nominee for Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos. In my work, I support students who are very vulnerable on IEPS, high-poverty environments, identifying as gay or transgender and coming from backgrounds where English is a second language. I believe that Ms. DeVos' extreme and uneducated position on the need of students in public schools could harm my children. Please vote against her nomination as secretary of education." Thanks, Diana. I will.
I heard from another teacher from Newton who said, “I am opposed to Betsy DeVos as the next secretary of education. I spent my entire life as a teacher first in public and private schools for 14 years teaching French and then as a member of the faculty of Leslie University for 26 years and now as a teacher in a lifelong learning program at Brandeis. I cannot imagine having a Secretary of Education who has never had any direct educational experience. I am also very worried about her views of public education and her appalling record on civil rights. Strong education is the foundation of our democracy. Please do what you can to maintain and improve our current system.” Thank you.
And yet, another teacher contacted our office, this one from Addington. She wrote, “I believe in my community's public schools. In fact I worked in them as a teacher for over 15 years. The nomination of Betsy DeVos has me seriously considering a change of employment. Betsy DeVos believes in reconcile -- school privatization and vouchers. Yet, she has never worked in a school. The marketplace solution of DeVos will destroy other democratically governed community schools. Her hostility toward public schools disqualifies her. I am asking you to vote against the confirmation of Betsy DeVos.”
We also heard from parents all across the state, including Leslie Bullion, a mother from Andover. Here's what Leslie had to say. “I am the mother of an eight-year-old who is dyslexic. She is smart and very capable of learning what other kids can learn. However, she needs specialized education. Through the public school system, she's learning to read and continues to reach new milestones daily. I fear that Betsy DeVos could put my daughter's education at risk. I urge you to oppose Secretary of Education Nominee Betsy DeVos who is best known for her anti-public education campaigns. The chance for the success of a child should not depend on winning a charter lottery, being accepted by a private school or living in the right zip code. It is our duty to ensure all students have access to a great public school in their community and the opportunity to succeed. Betsy DeVos has consistently worked against these values, and her efforts over the years have done more to undermine public education than support all students. DeVos has no experience in public schools either as a student, educator, administrator or even as a parent. She has lobbied for failed schemes like vouchers to fund private schools at taxpayers' expense. These privatization schemes do nothing to help our students most in need, and they ignore or exacerbate glaring opportunity gaps. We need a Secretary of Education who will champion innovative strategies that we know help improve success for all students, including creating more opportunities and equity for all. Betsy DeVos is not that person. And I urge you to vote against her for Secretary of Education.” Thank you, Leslie.
Kate Brigham, a mother from Summerville, also wrote us. Here's what Kate said. “My name is Kate Brigham and I am a constituent of yours from Summerville. I'm writing to urge you to vote against Betsy DeVos' confirmation as Secretary of Education. The future of our kids here in Summerville and across the country are depending on you to see the difference between education progress and privatization. The majority of America’s schoolkids attend public schools. We cannot leave their futures and the future of our country in the hands of a woman whose ideas to privatize school funding have already left the state of Michigan and its children in shambles. Her personal financial conflicts of interest are staggering. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act which DeVos did not know was a federal law, guarantees rights to both students with disabilities and to their parents. So this isn't just about civil rights. It's also crucial to families. We cannot afford a Secretary of Education who is confused on what the law is. My own two-year-old daughter benefits from Massachusetts wonderful Early Intervention Program and will need special education services when she turns three in September. IDEA and the A.D.A. were both signed into law by Republican presidents. Disability rights are not and cannot become a partisan issue. Thank you for ensuring that public education for all will be protected. Summerville and Massachusetts needs it, and we won't succeed with Betsy DeVos as Secretary of Education.” Thank you, Kate. Thanks for writing.
Samantha Lambert, a mother of four from Everett, also contacted us with her concerns. Here's what Samantha wrote. “I'm a voter from Massachusetts who has struggled with the change coming as a result of this election. It is difficult to focus when there is a new outrage at every turn. No one frightens me more than Betsy DeVos. Why? The impacts of her ignorance and disdain for public education will remain with us for a generation. I have four children all educated in the Everett public school system, one of whom benefits from special education. We have one opportunity to get it right for our children. I was asked by a conservative friend who is curious why this appointment brought such a backlash, and the answer was simple for me. Our job is to protect our children, the nation's children. Those unable to influence their future with a vote. There is no mandate for the destruction of our most treasured institution, the foundation of our democracy. My son deserves a free and fair education, as do his siblings, as do their peers. The children in our school district are in the lower socioeconomic rung. Many rely on public transportation and neighborhood public schools. That takes the choice out of school choice, doesn't it? It favors students on economic lines, furthering the divide and putting an undue burden on the schools left behind who will struggle to serve the students that need this gift of education most. The public hearing demonstrated that Mrs. DeVos is wholly unqualified for this appointment. Her answers or lack of answers specifically regarding IDEA and the school choice were frightening. As a parent, I was literally shaking. My nine-year-old son was listening to a portion and heard Senator Hassan mention dyslexia in her question. He cheered and asked if we were going to make sure all kids get special help to read. I couldn't answer him because in her answer, Mrs. DeVos seemed not to know that idea is a federal law protecting these beautiful minds, protecting them from being a line-item that can be wiped away. Their future successes and achievements going right along with it. I ask you please oppose Betsy DeVos for Education Secretary, for the good of all our nation's children.” Thank you, Samantha. Thanks for writing.
We also heard from Maura Thickeshima, a mother former teacher from Dutem, who wrote us to say this, “Before having my own children I taught in public schools for five years, three in Boston and two in Tennessee Sumner County. And I’m writing to ask you to vote against the confirmation of Betsy DeVos as Secretary of Education. It is evident that Ms. DeVos is passionate about education. Judging from the enormous amount of money she has poured into shaping policy. And I have no reason to doubt her intentions are good, but that doesn't qualify her for this job. Here are my concerns. Aside from having no experience in public schools either as a parent or a student, she has no experience in any kind of school as an educator. Second, at her confirmation hearing, she demonstrated a lack of basic understanding of many pertinent issues and concepts and intimate knowledge of which is required to shape good educational policy. Third, despite lacking both the prerequisite knowledge and experience within the field of education, she actively used her wealth to sway legislators in Michigan away from their initial support of bipartisan measures based on a broad coalition of informed participants to regulate and improve charter schools (for the record, I do support charter schools, but understanding that there is a vast disparity in their quality, I see the need for rigorous oversight.) her efforts, I believe, have been more detrimental than beneficial to the children of Detroit. And, fourth, her suggestion that enforcing idea should be left to the states is very troubling. Such policy would leave our most vulnerable students very far behind. While I agree with Ms. DeVos that our educational system would benefit from some additional choice for parents, I think she's wildly mistaken if she believes that a completely free market will fix our schools. We need a Secretary of Education who believes in proper oversight and can help create effective measures of assessment and accountability to improve education for all our children. That's what the department of education is for, to run it successfully, we need a secretary unlike DeVos, a secretary who is well trained in the field.” Thank you, Laura.
A mother from Clinton also wrote in about how she would be personally affected by Betsy DeVos. Here's what she said. “I have an eight-year-old daughter with autism spectrum disorder who receives services there our public elementary school. I believe that every individual deserves an equal education. IDEA must be upheld, exclamation point. My daughter is doing very well with her studies because of the support she receives. She is a very smart girl, but she needs and deserves accommodations. I am thankful there are laws to protect her. Betsy DeVos thinks that states should decide how to fund education for individuals with disabilities. I believe it should remain federally mandated. I wouldn't be able to afford a private education for my daughter in a special school, and I know there are many more parents like me. I also opposed expanding charter schools in our state. I believe publicly funded schools should be publicly run and overseen. I request you reject Betsy DeVos for Secretary of Education.” Thank you.
Another parent wrote to say this. “I'm writing to express my strong opposition to the confirmation of Betsy DeVos as Secretary of Education. She has demonstrated no commitment to public education throughout her life. And her support of charter schools in Detroit have been a demonstrated failure. The framing of for-profit charter schools as providing choice for parents is a false framing. It provides the illusion of a poorly regulated and poorly supervised choice for some parents while limiting the resources and choices left to the other parents and leading to a downward spiral in the quality of public education. Transferring puck funding of education -- transferring public funding of education to for-profit charter schools, creaming off the children of the most motivated parents and leaving the more difficult lower-income and children with special education challenges is a prescription for failure of public schools and will result in hurting lower-income students into dysfunctional schools setting them up for a lifetime of underemployment. I am not a teacher nor a member of a teachers union. I am a mother, and I was proud to send my son to the Brookline public schools for his entire K-12 education. I want other children to have the chance for a quality education, not to be fodder for a private for-profit charter school with no commitment to the public good. Quality public education is the foundation of a free society and the key to sustaining a vibrant economy in the future. Please oppose the confirmation of Betsy DeVos."
A woman from Canton also wrote in. She said, “As a parent of public schoolchildren, I urge you to reject the nomination of Betsy DeVos as secretary of education. A free and appropriate education is the cornerstone of our democracy, but Ms. DeVos has shown no interest in preserving public education. In fact, she has worked tirelessly to divert public funds into private pockets by way of deregulating and expanding charter schools and to offer vouchers which can be used at private and religious schools. This is clearly a violation of our principle of separating church and state. Ms. DeVos' strategies have had disastrous consequences in Michigan. 80% of charter schools there operate for profit. When schools look first to satisfy investors, they rely on teaching to standardized tests, not on educating children. Here in Massachusetts, we overwhelmingly rejected the idea, one funded by billionaires, and resisted by parents and public school teachers. Please join us in opposing a lead educator who has never gone to a public school nor sent her children to one. Please consider that the nation's future depends on educating every child and that to do so we need to restore and strengthen our public school system, not dismantle it in favor of profiting off the backs of our youth.” Thank you.
It is no surprise that we also heard from many constituents struggling with student loans, and one of those was Lean Weir, a college student from Brighton who had this to say -- "as a college student and as a resident of the state of Massachusetts, I am writing you to express my deep concern over the potential appointment of Betsy DeVos to the position of Secretary of Education. Ms. DeVos is extraordinarily unqualified to lead such a department. The fact that the President has chosen such a person with no experience in education administration in any capacity at any level is an insult to the millions of teachers, students and school administrators across the country. Ms. DeVos' policies will undermine already struggling public school systems by allocating taxpayer funds to advance a cynical and deeply troubling agenda against established science. I myself am a recipient of federal college grants and loans and I am growing increasingly concerned about Ms. DeVos' competency in managing the looming student debt crisis. Now more than ever is a time for the Education Department to be run by capable and caring individuals, not willfully ignorant ones."
A young mother from Winthrop also reached out to us. She had this to say -- "I urge you to vote no on a confirmation of Betsy DeVos, a singularly unqualified individual among a visitorrable sea of unqualified individuals this administration has chosen to lead our country. My husband and I have no personal stake in public education over the next four years. Our daughter is only 7 months old. But I am a child of two public school teachers in Rhode Island. My friends are teachers. My friends' children are in school. My nephews, cousins, et cetera. I believe in public schools, and I believe that Betsy DeVos is not the right direction for our public education system. She is dangerous and her lack of knowledge is appalling. Also, and I thank you so much for asking about this at her hearing -- student loans are not a business. They are a crisis in this country. My husband has a six-figure debt with interest rates at 7.5%. He had to take a job rather than pursue his dream of working in criminal justice because he needed a job that could pay his $1,000 a month student loan bill. Our saving grace is that I have a good job and my student loan debt is nearly paid off because I was loaned a reasonable amount at a reasonable 2% interest rate. We are a case study in how the program should work versus predatory lending." So true. Thanks for writing.
Liz Bosworth, a mother of two from North Dartmouth, had this to say -- "while I am fully aware that you do not support the nominations for many of President Trump's nominees, I am currently most concerned about Ms. DeVos. I watched parts of her hearing and I remain concerned that there was a denial for a second hearing. I hope this leads to continued questions and a final opposition of her as Secretary of Education. Your lines of questioning served to highlight her lack of qualifying experience but still, in light of the last six months' politics, I believe anything is possible. As the mother of two small children and a daughter -- a daughter-in-law, niece, cousin, friend and wife of public school teachers, I find her to be quite alarming and somewhat scary as the potential leader of that office. We are strong proponents of public education and are teaching our children to value their time in school and to achieve high levels of success. With that come some anxiety around their aspiration to higher learning. As a master’s level social worker, I will be paying off my loans until I start to pay for my son's higher education. I do not want the debt for my children that I have. At this rate, I am saving far much less money per month for their college funds while paying off my own. I want my children to go higher than myself, but I also want them to do so with a level of confidence that their finances that I was not afforded. Ms. DeVos highlighted by you in the confirmation hearing has not been involved with student loans on any level and does not have the experience to become entrusted with my current debt or the debt of my children. Finally, I would like to highlight my abject fear of the treatment of those students with learning disabilities, particularly severe and profound disorders if she is confirmed. While I see many walks of life in my field, my mother was a proud special education teacher in New Bedford for 33 years. She was proud to be able to teach life skills like budgeting, simple cooking and social skills to her students who may not ever be college ready. We worry about those kids and what will become of them if Ms. DeVos is confirmed. My husband is currently employed in a collaborative that works with mentally ill children that need a different kind of educational process but can still achieve the same goals. I am not sure they would ever qualify for a voucher to attend some charter school. We are committed to families and community maintenance of all students with the right care at the right time. I am not sure that Ms. DeVos is committed in the same way. Please vote to oppose Ms. DeVos." thank you, Liz. Thanks for writing.
I heard from another student in Boston who told me the following -- "I am writing you today as a public school teacher and a Ph.D. candidate in urban education leadership and policy studies. I believe in public schools. Betsy DeVos believes in school privatization and vouchers. She has worked to undermine efforts to regulate Michigan charters even when they clearly fail. The marketplace solutions of DeVos will destroy our democratically governed community schools. She has no professional experience in the education field. She does not truly understand the nuances of public education, nor does she want to understand. I managed to earn scholarships that took care of most of my schooling, but I still have about $80,000 in student loans. (Not bad for two expensive private institution degrees.) I am a first generation college student and my single mother could not afford to help me pay for my schooling. Betsy DeVos just doesn't have experience in K-12 public schools, but she has no experience in running the student loan department. The federal student loan program is far from perfect. We need someone running it who is knowledgeable in the process, who believes in making college more affordable, and who understands what it feels like not to be sure how you will pay for college. She has no qualifications of any kind in this area. I am asking you to vote against the confirmation of Betsy DeVos. Please consider this request and the thousands of other people across the country who vehemently disagree with Ms. DeVos' candidacy." thank you.
Sara Rothery, a mother of two from North Borrow, told me about her two sons, saying -- "I’m writing to ask that you oppose the confirmation of Ms. DeVos for the cabinet position for which she was nominated under President Trump. I have put two sons through college thanks to Stafford loans and personal savings, and I think she has no idea what is involved in middle-class families financing college educations today. One of my sons is now an eighth grade history teacher in a public charter school Abby Kelly Foster in Worcester and worries that Ms. DeVos has no real understanding of urban education as well. -- as well." thank you, Sara. Thanks for writing.
I have also heard from Alicia Batanno -- sorry about that, Alicia, a former student from Merrimack who bravely shared with me her own experiences. This is from Alicia -- "I suffer from a nonverbal learning disorder. Up until I was 13 years old, I was not diagnosed with anything. I went to aides, speech therapists, everyone. I had trouble in math and sciences. I was thought of as stupid. I was yelled at by aides. When I was 13 and diagnosed, my teachers didn't understand. They thought sitting me closer to the white board would allow me to understand better, despite the fact that it was their teaching methods that confused me. I was told I would not go to college or graduate. My parents had to hire an advocate to work for me to get my teachers in school to understand my disability. It took me some time to figure out what I wanted and needed, but in May, I graduated college. Betsy DeVos would be a horror for those with disabilities, not just learning ones but mental ones. I was lucky I had parents and one teacher backing me, but what about the ones that don't? Putting Betsy DeVos into office will hurt our children in America. That's not making America great." Alicia, thank you for writing. I really appreciate it. And congratulations on your graduation.
A man from Brookline also wrote in, saying this -- "as someone passionate about education, especially the education of students in Massachusetts, as a graduate of a public elementary school, middle school, high school and college, as a young professional burdened by education debt, as the husband of an early childhood educator working in a struggling Boston neighborhood, as a member of the family filled with men and women dedicated to careers in public education, I strongly urge you to oppose Secretary of Education nominee Betsy DeVos. My vote for or against candidates in future elections will be informed by whether the candidate publicly opposed this Secretary of Education nominee. Betsy DeVos has consistently worked against public education, and she is incredibly unqualified for this position. At best, she should be an undersecretary focused on public-private partnerships, if you must work with the incoming administration, suggest her nomination for that role, but you must oppose her cabinet level appointment. DeVos has no experience in public schools, either as a student, educator, administrator or even as a parent. She has lobbied for and been employed by initiatives that have undermined public education in America. We need a Secretary of Education who will champion innovative strategies that we know help to improve success for all students, including creating more opportunities and equity for all. I urge you to vote against Ms. DeVos for Secretary of Education.”
Now, what does Betsy DeVos have to say to Matt and Diana or to the thousands of other teachers who have more experience in public education than she does? What does she have to say to Leslie and Samantha, whose children have benefited from the program she wants to cut? What does she have to say to Sarah who relied on Stafford Loans to put her sons through college? And it's not just individuals who are worried about Betsy DeVos. We've heard from groups across the state as well.
The Massachusetts Charter Public Schools Association wrote me saying this, “Dear Senator Warren, as the association representing the 70 Massachusetts commonwealth charter public schools, we are writing to express our concerns over the nomination of Betsy DeVos as U.S. Secretary of Education. We believe it is important to raise certain issues that should be addressed by the nominee. Both President-elect Trump and Ms. DeVos are strong supporters of public charter schools, and we are hopeful they will continue the bipartisan efforts of the Clinton, Bush and Obama administration while pursuing reforms that will strengthen traditional public schools. But we are concerned about media reports of Ms. DeVos' support for school vouchers and her critical role in her home state of Michigan that has been widely criticized for lax oversight and poor academic performance and appears to be dominated by for-profit interests. As the senior Senator from Massachusetts and a member of the U.S. Senate committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions -- HELP -- which will hold hearings on the nomination, you will be in a position to ensure the nominee commits to holding the national charter school movement to the highest levels of accountability and oversight that are the hallmark of the Massachusetts charter system.
“By all independent accounts, Massachusetts has the best charter school system in the country. We are providing high-quality public school choices for parents across our state. Our urban schools are serving the highest need of children in Massachusetts and are producing results that have researchers double checking their math. These gains held across all demographic groups, including African-American, Latino, and children living in poverty. The cornerstone of the Massachusetts charter public school system is accountability. The process of retaining and keeping a charter is deliberately difficult. The state board of elementary and secondary education is the sole authorizer and historically has approved only one out of every five applications. Once approved, each charter school must submit to annual financial audits by independent auditors and annual performance reviews by the state department of elementary and secondary education. Every five years each charter must be renewed after a process as rigorous as the initial application process.
“For-profit charter schools are prohibited by Massachusetts law. Our schools have also created partnerships with many Massachusetts public school districts to foster collaboration and best practices sharing and have forged an historic compact between Boston charter public schools and the Boston public schools that has become a national model. Bipartisan support has been key to the development and success of the Massachusetts system. Created in 1993 by a democratic legislature and a republican governor, public charter schools have continued to receive support from all governors, republican and democratic alike, and democratic legislative leaders. If the new president and his nominee intend to advance the cause of school choice across the country, they should look to Massachusetts for their path forward.
“The history of charter schools in Michigan offers a more cautionary tale. The same researchers from Stanford that declared Massachusetts charter public schools an unqualified success had mixed reviews for Michigan’s charters. According to media reports last year Ms. DeVos campaigned against bipartisan legislation that would have provided more oversight for Michigan’s charters. If these reports are true, we are deeply concerned that efforts to grow school choice without a rigorous accountability system will reduce the quality of charter schools across the country.
“We hope you agree that quality, not quantity, should be the guiding principle of charter expansion. Without high levels of accountability, this model fails. We ask that you use the hearing to probe the incoming administration's intentions regarding education policy in general and school choice and quality specifically. We'd be happy to provide you with more information on the Massachusetts model and would welcome a meeting with your staff to brief them on our concerns. Sincerely, Massachusetts Charter Public School Association Board of Directors.”
The people of Massachusetts cannot afford Betsy DeVos, and this is why I will vote no on her nomination and why I urge my colleagues to do the same.
Mr. President, I yield the floor.