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Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Why I Won’t Vote for Betsy DeVos

From The New York Times

By Maggie Hassan
February 3, 2017


WASHINGTON — Our nation recognized early in its history that public education is a necessary foundation for a democracy. It’s critical that we continue to support a strong public education system that prepares our young people, all of them, to participate in our democracy and compete on a fair footing in the work force.

For this reason, our public officials should share a reverence for the importance of public education to our country’s success, both now and in the future. And they must show a commitment to enforcing our laws so that all students have the opportunity to succeed. That is why I oppose President Trump’s nominee for secretary of education, Betsy DeVos.

Throughout her confirmation process, Ms. DeVos has demonstrated a complete lack of experience in, knowledge of and support for public education. Instead, it is clear that she would pursue policies that would undermine public schools, in my home state of New Hampshire and across our nation.

At her nomination hearing before the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions last month, I questioned Ms. DeVos on whether she would enforce the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act, the law that ensures that all students receive a free and full education in our schools. Not only did Ms. DeVos decline to assure senators that she would enforce the law to protect students with disabilities, but she also demonstrated her confusion about whether the I.D.E.A. is a federal law.

Ensuring access to public education for every student is an issue that is personal to my family. My adult son Ben was born with cerebral palsy. Ben is bright and funny (and quite handsome, according to this unbiased source). He cannot walk, cannot use his fingers to type and can speak only in difficult-to-understand single words.

If Ben had been born a generation or two earlier, we, his parents, would have been pressured to put him in an institution. But Ben was able to go to a public school in his hometown, Exeter, N.H., because of the tireless work of the advocates, educators and public officials who came before us.

Ben had the opportunity to go to school and make friends in his own community — something that all parents want for their children. And I was drawn to public service to ensure that all children have the same opportunities that Ben did.

Instead of supporting public schools, Ms. DeVos has supported voucher systems that divert taxpayer dollars to private, religious and for-profit schools without requirements for accountability. Voucher systems often fail to serve children who have disabilities. To use a voucher, families are sometimes forced to sign away their child’s legal rights, and the schools receiving the voucher often lack the experience or resources necessary to educate the child.

This is in sharp contrast to public school systems that focus on serving all students, including those with disabilities. In these public schools, educators are better prepared to recognize challenges faced by all students — not just those who have a diagnosed disability — and are empowered to tailor educational experiences to individual students.

That is the wonder of a public education system that reinforces the principle that every student counts. Too often, though, the voucher programs that Ms. DeVos advocates leave out students whose families cannot afford to pay the part of the tuition that the voucher does not cover; the programs also leave behind students with disabilities because the schools do not accommodate their complex needs.

I am also concerned about the number of unresolved conflicts of interest regarding Ms. DeVos’s finances, which call into question whether she will put America’s students before her own financial interests.

Ms. DeVos has invested in numerous companies in the education sphere, and she has failed to answer basic questions about her finances, including which companies she would stay invested in if she is confirmed.

I will always fight to improve our public education system and ensure that all students have the opportunity to reach their full potential. This week, I voted against moving forward with Ms. DeVos’s nomination in committee, and I will vote against her nomination again on the Senate floor.

Thousands of my constituents have called my office about this nomination, and nearly all have voiced concerns that Ms. DeVos is completely unqualified to serve as secretary of education. Two of my Republican colleagues have also announced their opposition. This leaves just one more vote needed to defeat her nomination.

I hope there is another senator willing to break with the president and vote against this woefully unqualified nominee. We must listen to the thousands speaking up for our children and the public education system that serves all Americans.

Maggie Hassan (@SenatorHassan) is a Democratic senator from New Hampshire.

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