tv U.S. Senate Democrats Continue to Hold Floor as De Vos Vote Looms CSPAN February 6, 2017 5:59pm-8:00pm EST
the presiding officer: a quorum call is not present. the clerk will call the name, of the senators not present. the clerk: mr. alexander, ms. baldwin, mr. barrasso, mr. bennet, the clerk: mr. carper, mr. casey, mr. cassidy, mr. cochran, ms. collins, mr. coons, mr. corker, mr. crapo, mr. cruz, mr. daines, ms. duckworth, mr. durbin, mr. enzi, mrs. ernst, mrs. feinstein, mr. flake, mr. franken. mrs. gillibrand, ms. harris, ms. hassan.
mr. hatch. mr. heinrich. ms. heitkamp. mr. hiller. miz hirono. mr. hoeven. mr. inhofe. mr. johnson. mr. kennedy. mr. king. ms. klobuchar. mr. le leahy. mrs. mccaskill, ms. murkowski, mrs. murray. mr. nelson. mr. paul. mr. perdue. mr. peters. mr. portman. mr. reed. mr. risch. mr. roberts. mr. rounds. mr. rubio. mr. sanders. mr. sasse. mr.mr. schatz. mr. schumer. mr. scott. mr. sessions. ms. stabenow. mr. sullivan. mr. tester. mr. thune. mr. toomey. mr. use dal. mr. warner. mrs. warren. mr. whitehouse. mr. wicker. mr. wyden. mr. young.
the presiding officer: a quorum is not present. mr. mcconnell: mr. president, i move to instruct the sergeant-at-arms to request the presence of absent senators and i ask for the yeas and nays. the presiding officer: is there a second? a sufficient second. there appears to be. the clerk will call the roll.
the presiding officer: are there any senators in the chamber wishing to vote or desire to change their vote? if not the yeas are 91. the nays are 4. the motion is agreed to. the sergeant-at-arms is so instructed. a quorum is present. a senator: mr. president? the presiding officer: the senator from tennessee.
mr. alexander: thank you, mr. president. mr. president, the senate is not in order. the presiding officer: the senate will be in order. the senator from tennessee is recognized. mr. alexander: thank you, mr. president. mr. president, tonight the senator from maryland, senator cardin and i and a bipartisan group of united states senators have introduced a resolution reaffirming the strong alliance between the united states and australia. i'd like to speak about that just for a few minutes. i don't know what happened during last week's telephone call between the president of the united states and the prime minister of australia. but i do know this. the people of the united states do not have better friends than the people of australia. we're more than friends. as one australian told me when our family lived there 30 years ago, we're mates all right, he said. the english may be our ancestors but you americans are our
cousins, first cousins. we started out the same kind of people, my australian friend said, underprivileged, a long way from home, doing the same kind of thing, looking for new life, found a hard life, hoped it would be a better one, a better one for our children, each wave of new ones lifted up the last ones, a pioneering spirit in the countryside here, the australian said. in america, too. even though they lived down under on the other side of the world, for a century australians have stood with us every time we were at war. and we have stood with them. mr. president, the senate is not in session. the presiding officer: the senate -- the senator is correct. the senate will be in order. please take the conversations out of the chamber. the senator from tennessee.
mr. alexander: thank you, mr. president. even though they lived down under on the other side of the world for a century australians have stood with us every time we were at war, and we've stood with them. during world war ii when australian troops were fighting in north africa and europe and the japanese were bombing darwin four times a day, the united states came to the rescue. in 1992 dick cheney and i as member of president george h. w. bush's cabinet traveled to australia to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the battle of the coral sea when united states navy stopped japan's advance. today no two countries trust one another and cooperate in security arrangements more than australia and america. we trade. we visit one another. and our students study in each other's universities. 30 years ago our family moved -- lived an american dream and we moved to australia.
we arrived on australia day, january 26, 1987, 199 years after the first fleet of english settlers sailed into sydney harbor. after eight years of swivelling in the governor's chair on the very day i was sworn out of office, my wife and our four children flew to sydney for six months off in the land down under. it was my wife's idea, an opportunity for a retreat from the merry go round of power and to discover what really was important. we rented a home with a view of the most beautiful harbor of the world, bought an australian car and i learned to drive on the wrong side of the road. our four children walked to australian schools. we all sank deeply into the culture of our america's favorite cousins. i attended chester a. arthur society meetings where australian parliament members competed to show that they know
more about united states history than american united states senators do. we spent the night in the south wales bush. we saw 9-foot crocodiles in the northwest territory. we traveled by train to see the melbourne zoo and took a horseback trip across the snowy mountains. it didn't take long for us to understand what mark twain meant when he wrote, when a stranger from america steps ashore in sydney, the thing that strikes him is that it's an english city with american trimmings. mr. president, we made friends then that exist to this day. last year four of those friends, the australian foreign minister bob carr and australian ambassador to the united states kim beasley and their wives spent the weekend with us at our home outside the great smoky mountains in tennessee. we cherish those friendships and our country's relationship with
australia. it is always appropriate for the united states senate to reaffirm the importance of that relationship and i'm glad to join senator cardin and a long list of bipartisan united states senators who do that again today. to offer a more complete understanding of what makes australians our favorite cousins, i ask consent to include in the record chapter 30 from my book "six months off" written after our time in australia. the presiding officer: without objection. lex i thank the president. i -- mr. alexander: i thank the president and i yield the floor. a senator: mr. president? the presiding officer: -- lex i ask 30 -- mr. alexander: i ask 30 seconds of recognition. i ask consent to include in the record following my remarks the bipartisan resolution introduced by senator cardin and a number of other senators today.
the presiding officer: is there objection? seeing none, so ordered. mr. alexander: thank you very much. the presiding officer: the senator from wisconsin. ms. baldwin: thank you. mr. president, i rise to urge my colleagues to join me in opposing the nomination of betsy devos to be secretary of education. simply put, betsy devos' -- betsy devos is completely unqualified to serve as secretary of education in this great nation. many others share this view. i have heard from thousands of parents and teachers and other citizens of wisconsin who are concerned about the future of our educational system and urging me to oppose mrs. devos and certainly opposing her vision for america's students.
as of today, over 20,000 wisconsinites have e-mailed me. we've had over 7,000 phone calls opposing the confirmation of mrs. devos. senate democrats are unified in our opposition to mrs. devos serving in this capacity. even two senate republicans have announced that they cannot support betsy devos. if just one more of my republican colleagues were to announce their opposition, were to vote no, we could do the right thing and tell president trump that he really needs to find a new candidate, a new candidate for secretary of education who is qualified to run that department.
now, while betsy devos has spent decades advocating for a particular vision for education, she has never actually worked as a teacher or as an administrat administrator. her career has involved investing hers and her family's considerable wealth and using those resources to advance privatization of our k-12 education system. now, she did not attend a public school either for grade school or high school or college and nor did her children. and she has never worked as a teacher, a principal, a professor, a counselor, or in any other formal role in our
education system. her confirmation hearing before the health, education, labor and pensions committee clearly demonstrated how little she knows about federal education law and policy. it was startling to see her ignorance about critical measures like the individuals with disabilities education act or the debate over growth versus proficiency as a measure of student achievement. betsy devos has demonstrated that she neither has the knowledge nor the experience in education that would allow her to be a successful leader of the department of education.
now, mrs. devos has worked to advance a vision of k-12 education that is fundamentally hostile to our public education system. my home state of wisconsin has a long and very proud tradition of support for public education. back at the founding of our state, we wrote the guarantee that every child should receive a free public education into our very founding document, our state constitution. wisconsin had the first kindergarten in the united states. wisconsin is proud of something that we actually call the wisconsin idea in higher education that the walls of the classroom should be the borders
of the state, if not the borders of this nation or the entire world. mrs. devos' experience in education, however, has been a decade long effort to privatize it. her record of support for vouchers as well as charter schools that lack adequate accountability and oversight is very troubling and could lead to diversion of public dollars in even greater amounts out of public education. now, regardless of any vision or experience of mrs. devos, she is a nominee with let's say complex and opaque finances.
she has a very opaque record of financial dealings and political giving, including on matters directly related to the work that the department does which she seeks to lead. given her and her family's investments in companies that benefit directly from federal education programs, i remain very concerned about what we simply still don't know. i'm also troubled by mrs. devos' and her family's long history of contributing to organizations that have been hostile to the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender community, even some of these organizations
promoting the idea that sexual gender can be changed through so-called conversion therapy. now while she told me and several of my colleagues at our hearing that she believes that all students should be treated equally, i really remain concerned about how this long history of support for these anti-lgbtq organizations will influence a department which over the last eight years has shown some tremendous leadership in supporting lgbtq students and parents in the education system. the federal government's primary
role in elementary and secondary education is to promote equity, and i'm not convinced that mrs. devos will be the leader that the department needs to do just that. congress passed the elementary and secondary education act in 1965 as a civil rights measure. it was designed to ensure that every student, regardless of zip code or parents' income, has access to a quality public education. we continued that important tradition in reauthorizing this law which is now in the form of a very strongly bipartisan bill, the every student
succeeds act. the next secretary of education will have to implement that act, and i fear that mrs. devos as a vocal proponent of state and local control, will not be the strong voice that we need to hold states accountable for serving all students, particularly those who have been historically left behind. when we passed the every student succeeds act, we made sure that there were strong federal guardrails to assure that we never forget why there's a federal role in education to begin with for equity and civil rights and to make sure that every child can succeed.
furthermore, i'm very concerned that mrs. devos would not commit to robustly supporting the department's office of civil rights or enforcing the very guidance that protects transgender students from discrimination. betsy devos lacks knowledge about, and commitment to the federal laws that ensure students with disabilities have access to the various supports that they need to receive and benefit from a quality public education. as i noted, she demonstrated a complete lack of understanding about our federal obligations to these students. i have heard from numerous
parents in wisconsin, parents of students with disabilities who were appalled by her inadequate answers to questions at our education panel hearing. she was unprepared to answer questions about the individuals with disabilities education act and what it -- and these parents have written to express their distress of what her feeling and role of secretary of education could mean for their children if she were to be confirmed. now, one wisconsin mother of three special needs children wrote to me about how this federal law provided the legal rights that she needed to advocate for them, to advocate
for the best possible educational environment for her three sons with special needs. i heard from another mother, melissa from bell loit,who detailed how the individuals with disabilities education act makes it possible for her daughter rowena who has down's syndrome and autism to actually thrive in a public education setting along with her peers. finally, as a strong proponent of making college more accessible and affordable, i do not believe that mrs. devos has the experience or vision that will allow her to successfully lead the department in supporting higher learning. there is a student debt crisis in this country, but mrs. devos
doesn't have a plan to address it and has even expressed skepticism about a federal role. while she has acknowledged that there are some bad actors in higher education, she's also refused to commit to enforcing regulations that help students who are defrauded by dishonest schools like corinthian colleges. we need an advocate for those students as secretary of education, not one who's looking for ways to shirk that responsibility. despite the fact that the department oversees billions of dollars in grants and loans that allow students to pursue higher education, she has expressed skepticism about any federal role in making college more
affordable. she's even refused to oppose cuts to a program that helps students who commit to a career in public service or to support efforts to ensure that the value of the pell grant keeps pace with the cost of college. for all of these reasons and many others, betsy devos is not the right choice for secretary of education. i call on my colleagues to defeat her on the question of confirmation and to afford this new president the chance to send us a nominee who is prepared to be an advocate for all students and public education in this
country. thank you. a senator: mr. president? the presiding officer: the senator from florida is recognized. mr. nelson: mr. president, i yield the remainder of my postcloture debate time to senator schumer. the presiding officer: the senator has that right. mr. rubio: mr. president? the presiding officer: the senator from florida is recognized. mr. rubio: mr. president, i know we're in the middle of an important debate about a topic of education in our schools and a lot that i hope young people will learn more about is the statement of our affairs when it comes to human rights. we're involved in a heated debate about items of political matters. if you look here today there are people standing up here to speak on different sides of an issue. you see that the republican party today controls the white house, the senate and the house, and yet you have people with freedom in this country to be able to stand up and oppose
that. we've seen that across the country in demonstrations and in speeches and in all sorts of other protected speech. we're very fortunate, we're very blessed to live in a nation with those freedoms. but that's not the case all over the world, and i want to take this opportunity in the midst of all this debate and discussion about an important topic -- the nomination before the senate -- to remind people that despite our differences on these issues, we are truly blessed to be able to live in a country where opposing the party in power does not mean you go to jail. and as i've been doing for some time now, i wanted to come this evening and highlight yet another example of human rights abuses that are taking place in a very important part of the world. over the past couple of years my office andistic highlighting human rights cases through our social media campaign. we call it #expression, not oppression. the goals are to raise awareness
about the cases and the individuals suffering at the hands of these oppressive government. we know through history that oppressed people -- we may not think these floor speeches matter, we may not think that mentioning here in this forum matter but it does to them because one of the first thing oppressos tell them is the world has forgotten about you. we let them know we know their names and their story and will continue to speak out in their behalf. the second is to show their families and their loved ones that elected officials like me here in the united states senate have not forgotten them because we know that tyrants, as i said, like to tell political prisoners they're along in their struggle. the third is to call for action, whether it's for the administration to make their cases a priority too or to call on these governments to release these individuals. there's one more reason why i think that this effort, again, hashtag expression, not oppression is important,
because as well as of all the good work being done on both sides of the aisle in defense of human rights, promotion of democracy and god-given freedom like religious freedom and freedom of the press and free speech, they have to continue to be a pillar of our foreign policy. so i hope these cases we highlight bring that guiding principle to light. today i wanted to discuss the cases of two chinese political prisoners whose -- who i had the opportunity to meet last week when i visited last week. these women pressed on the chinese to release them. nonpartisan case of one, to account -- in the case of one, to account for his whereabouts. perhaps just importantly, they urged me that i press our own state department to prioritize these cases diplomatically in the hopes that these families can be reunited in the not too distant future. and so i come here today to urge
our now new secretary of the, mr. tillerson, to prioritize the release of these men in his diplomatic engagement with china. in the coming weeks i expect we'll have a chance to hear from the president's nominee to be the united states ambassador to china, governor branstad of iowa. when he comes before the senate foreign relations committee for his confirmation hearing, i will bring up these cases and others and urge him to make their freedom a priority of his work if confirmed. jiang tianyong is a 45 year old lawyer despited by the government because of his add voa -- advocacy and human rights cases. despite the risks of this work, he has been steadfast in his support of the families and of their right to lawyers and legal
advocates caught up in china's sweeping nationwide crackdown on the legal community in july of 2015 which ensnared roughly 250 lawyers and advocates. jiang's wife indicated, consistent with a spate of media stories that his family and friends lost contact with him in late november of last year. that's when a chinese state controlled newspaper reported that he had been detained for a series of trumped up charges. his wife has received no formal confirmation of his precease whereabouts and to date he has been denied access to a lawyer of his choosing. even more troubling is that this is entirely legal. under china's laws. even though it violates all international norms of justice. under china's own laws, authorities may hold him or anyone for up to six months without informing his family where he is held and without allowing him to access a lawyer, conditions that the
united nations committee against torture has found places, detainees at a high risk of torture. indeed, reports over the past months about four other human rights lawyers provide detailed information about the chinese authorities use of torture to extract, quote unquote, confessions and impose unbearable psychological pressure. all these realities underscore that china remains a country of rule by law. congressman chris smith of new jersey and i cochair the congressional executive commission on china which found in our 2016 annual report that -- quote -- the chinese communist party has continued to reject the notion that the rule of law should supersede the party's role in guiding the functions of the state, unquote. as such, lawyers, advocates, dissidents and others often find themselves in the party's crosshairs, persecuted under the law rather than protected by it, and they have no recourse for justice. a second chinese individual i
want to highlight today is lawyer tang jingling, who has also been disbarred for his human rights advocacy. he first gained prominence as a lawyer working on cases related to village compensation, corruption and also by representing activists. in january of last year, he was convicted, of -- quote -- inciting subversion of state power. that's a charge. he was sentenced to five years in prison. ers first detained in may of 2014 on suspicion of picking quarrels and provoking troubles. just imagine that. picking quarrels and provoking troubles is a crime in china. this happened, by the way, during the leadup to the 25th anniversary of the tiananmen square protests when the chinese government worked desperately to wipe out any discussion or memory of this historically brutal crackdown. in reality, all tang and other activists did was participate in the nonviolent disobedience movement seeking legal and social reform in china.
following his conviction, tang eloquently wrote -- this is a quote -- inside the grandette physical of the court, -- the grand edifice of the court, we can see ornate furnishings and decorations and we can see employees in dignified attire, but we cannot see the law and we definitely cannot see justice." end quote. he continues movingly speaking of the faith that has sustained him in the midst of injustice. quote -- "the holy bible has a passage that reads blessed are those that are persecuted for righteousness sake. today we have been pronounced guilty, thrown in be prison, separated from our families and endured humiliation and difficulties, and i am far from being able to convince or prove to others how these tribulations could have become my blessings. god's will is inevitably difficult to understand. i often pray and ask him to give me more strength so that i may persevere until the moment of revelation. i dare say in 2011 while in a secret jail and now in detention almost every day, i have passed,
have been calm and fulfilling, i have never lost my direction." end quote. the courage and conviction of these men should be an inspiration to us all, an inspiration which should propel us to act. and i would add a reminder again of how blessed and fortunate we are to live by the grace of god in the nation where we have the freedom to speak, to object, to state our views without fear of the circumstances and the consequences that these brave men now face. the chinese people yearn for the protection of their most basic human rights and bravely stand with their fellow marginalized and oppressed countrymen. they are china's greatest asset, not its biggest threat, as the government, the communist party wrongly believes. any government, any government which views its own people with such fear and hostility will, as has often been said, find itself on the wrong side of history, and so i hope more of my colleagues in this body and the house and especially in the
administration will join their voices in support of these political prisoners and all who languish in jails, prisons and in gulags simply because they want a better life, because they want a say in their future, and have bravely made these aspirations clear. i thank you, mr. president. with that, i yield the floor. the presiding officer: the senator from new hampshire is recognized. a senator: thank you, mr. president. ms. hassan: before getting to the matter at hand i thought i would take a minute to congroot late the new england -- congratulate the new england patriots, bill belichick, tom brady, all patriots fans everywhere, for the greatest comeback in super bowl history. they really demonstrated the grit and determination and resilience that new hampshire and new england is known for and we are very, very proud of them. and with that, i ask unanimous consent to have these remarks appear separately in the record.
the presiding officer: without objection. ms. hassan: thank you. mr. president, i rise today to join my colleagues in opposing the nomination of betsy devos to serve as the secretary of education. our nation recognized early in its history that public education is a necessary foundation for our democracy. it is critical that we continue to support a strong public education system that prepares all of our young people to participate in our democracy and compete in the 21st century work force. all public officials, regardless of their party affiliation should share a reverence for the importance of public education to our country's success, both now and into the future. and they must show a commitment to enforcing our laws so that all students have the opportunity to succeed. i agree with my colleagues that mrs. devos has not shown a
commitment to or an understanding of these principles, and that's why i oppose her nomination. this nomination process has been extremely disappointing from the start. mrs. devos failed to provide critical information on her finances. members of the help committee were only given five minutes to question mrs. devos on her views on our nation's education system. in the questions she did not answer before the committee, mrs. devos -- in the questions she did answer before the committee, mrs. devos demonstrated a complete lack of experience in, knowledge of, and support for public education. she was unable to address basic issues, issues any new hampshire school board member could discuss fluently. she showed that she lacks an understanding of issues facing students with disables. she has potential conflicts of interest that she still has not answered basic questions about.
she supports diverting taxpayer dollars to private schools without accountability requirements. as governor of new hampshire, i supported public charter schools. they play an important role in driving innovation and education and providing additional opportunities for nontraditional learners. but they must meet the same standards as other public schools. in detroit mrs. devos led effortses to oppose accountability requirements, even for for-profit charter schools. and in her testimony before the help committee, she declined to support enforcing accountability requirements. it is clear that mrs. devos would pursue policies that would undermine public schools in my home state of new hampshire and across our nation. in the past several weeks, thousands of granite staters, including student, parents, teachers, principals and superintendents have called and
written into my office. they have shared their concerns about mrs. devos. they understand that she is completely unqualified for this position. mr. president, our children, their families, and our nation deserve better than a secretary of education who does not value public education. ensuring access to public education for every student is an issue that is deeply personal to my family. surely after my husband and tom and i welcomed our first child into the world, our son ben, we found out that he had severe and pervasive physical disabilities. it became clear to tom and me that we were going to need a little bit of extra help if our son was going to have the kind of future we all want our children to have. and we were lucky because we found that help in our community, not only among
friends and neighbors, but in a public school system that welcomed ben. i still remember the day that a school bus pulled into our driveway and we wheeled ben on to the lift and up into the bus and off he went at age 3 to his first day of preschool, publicly funded, inclusive preschool. as i sat on the stoop and watched the bus pullway, i found -- pull away, i found myself thinking if ben had been born a generation or two earlier, tom and i would have been pressured to put ben in an institution. there wouldn't have been the resources in our community or in our cool system to include ben. but because of the work of the champions, the families, the advocates who went before the hassan family, ben was able to go to school in his hometown. he was able to learn and to make friends, to do what we all want
our children to do. that's the power of public education. it's the power of making sure that all kids are included. our family was able to live like any other family and feel like any other family because ben could go to school in his hometown. and as ben went from preschool to elementary school to middle school to high school, we found that his peers accepted him, interacted with him, grew with him. i still remember a day when i got a call from one of ben's teachers saying that the tire on his power wheelchair had gone flat. now, that's the type of call that a parent of a child with complex needs dreads because it means you have to stop everything because if the wheelchair can't move, your child can't go through their
day. but instead of my needing to take a day off from work and pursue the repair of ben's chair, it was other students in the career and technical engineer education center in exeter would came forward and said, we can fix that. their education, preparing them for a trade and a career served ben's needs that day beautifully. and both ben and his peers learned that day. ben's experience in public education was made possible because of so many advocates, educators and families that came before our family, but this was not always the case for students who experienced disabilities. when i served in the state senate in new hampshire, i grew to know a woman named roberta. roberta born in the early 1950's
had spent a good portion of her life in our state's school for individuals wp disabilities -- individuals with disabilities. roberta left that state school as we began to work after the passage of the idea to bring people out of institutions and into the communities. and later as roberta learned to advocate for herself and tell her story, she recorded some of her memories from laconia state school, the separate school, so-called school for students with disabilities. roberta wrote, and this is a quote, some of the attendants and residents at the laconia state school sexually, verbally, emotionally, and physically abused and assaulted me. the staff said they did this to me because i misbehaved or acted
silly. she went on -- quote -- the attendants and residents there hit and kicked me with their hands and feet. they pulled my hair, whipped me with wooden or metal coat hangers, wet towels, hair brushes, mop and broom handles, hard leather belts, straps, yardsticks, stainless steel serving utensils. roberta adds -- quote -- "decisionly, they bullied me by laughing at me and -- additionally, they bullied me by laughing at me and calling me names. they spat at me, pinched my armings and body part -- arms and body parts causing me pain. they threw buckets of cold water on my body, clothes and all. they said that the cold water would calm me down. roberta's experience was unfortunately what life was like
for some students with disabilities before idea. years later afro better take left -- after roberta left laconia state school, after she was reintegrated into her community, she appeared before a state senate committee that i was chairing because she was the main proponent of a law that we passed in the new hampshire state senate to remove the word "retarded" from all of our state statutes because roberta knew that it was the judgment of people who first interacted with her, people who believed she had intellectual disabilities that caused her parents to believe that they had to put not only roberta but her sister joslin in an institution. both roberta and jos joslin hapd
to have the misfortune of being born with disabilities. it is that contrast between roberta's experience and my son's that keeps me focused on the importance of making sure that we include all children in our public school system but also that we have the laws in place to ensure that they get the free appropriate education that all american children deserve. unfortunately, mr. president, mrs. devos has demonstrated a lack of understanding of the challenges facing students with disabilities. at our hearing earlier this month, i questioned mrs. devos on whether she would enforce idea. not only did she decline to assure senators that she would enforce the law to protect students with disabilities, but she was confused about whether idea was indeed a federal law to
begin with. while i am pleased that mrs. devos later clarified that she is no longer confused about whether idea is a federal law, she has done nothing to reassure me that she would enforce it or that she understands how fragile the gains we have made under idea are. the voucher system that mrs. devos supports has often, intended or not, hurt individuals who experience disabilities. children and families lose legal protections enshrined in the idea. in some cases, students and their families have to sign away their civil rights before they can receive their vouchers, yet many of the private schools that take those vouchers, the schools that mrs. devos wishes to push
students to, lack basic resources or acome -- accommodations for children who experience disabilities. so if a family determines that the school that has accepted their voucher really doesn't have the resources or the expertise to educate their child, they have no legal recourse. mrs. devos' unfamiliarity with idea, her comments on students with disabilities was something my office heard about often from granite state parents who contacted the office with concerns about her nomination. a mother from hopkinton, new hampshire, wrote to tell me about her daughter who attends hopkinton high school and experiences severe disabilities, is nonverbal and requires assistance for all aspects of her daily care.
this mother wrote -- and this is a quote -- "despite all of this, because of the extraordinary support we have received, she is living a rich and loving life at home and is part of the public school system. i have no confidence that betsy devos would understand or support the role that public schools have for taking care of all students. this mother also called mrs. devos' lack of understanding of idea appalling. i also heard from the the parent from concord, new hampshire, who said -- quote -- "my stepdaughter currently has a 504 plan for both a physical and a cognitive disability at concord high school. they are doing an excellent job
of working with her to make sure her needs are met. my children deserve a future and so do all children. this parent said she was feelina quote -- vulnerable as a result of mrs. devos' nomination. parents all across our nation deserve to know that the rights of their children will be protected, and they are rightfully concerned with mrs. devos' nomination. in new hampshire, i am proud of our work to build a future where every child can get the kind of education they need to be competitive and successful leaders in the 21st century economy. just last week, i visited sauhegan high school in amherst, new hampshire. sauhegan has become a pioneer in competency-based education. i visited numerous classrooms where students were doing
hands-on lessons in earth science and in literature, to make sure that they could master the material before them in a way that would stick with them. they were great examples of what we've learned about the importance of hands-on project-based learning, how much better students retain information, knowledge, problem-solving skills when they actually have a problem to solve, and how important it is for them to learn to collaborate with their fellow students just the way we expect people to collaborate as a team in the workplace. after i visited the classes, the students at souhegan had formed a panel to talk with me. and those students with a variety of interests, backgrounds, education levels talked about how important it was for them to have control of their own learning, to learn in a way, in a style that worked
for them, to work with their piers and build off of each -- their peers and build off of each other. i also talked with them about new hampshire's pilot project-based competency assessment program called pace, something that new hampshire received waivers to do over the last year and are in the process of continuing right now. new hampshire is piloting a program that moves us away, just as was recommended and foreseen by the every child succeeds act, from high-stakes one-time testing to project-based assessments that are built into the project-based competency learning that they are doing. we are seeing great success with this pilot, and schools across the country are beginning to adopt it as well.
that's the power of strong, innovative public education. this was an approach developed by teachers and parents and students and our department of education and our statewide school board as well as local school boards together. and just as we have important initiatives surrounding project-based learning in new hampshire, we also have strong public charter schools. i still recall a visit to our north country charter school in one of the more rural parts of new hampshire, a school that was formed, a regional effort to allow students for whom traditional high school wasn't working, whether it be because of their learning style, because of particular events that were happening in their home or other emotional or developmental
issues. it allows them to come together and go to school in a way and in a place that works for them, keeping them in school, helping new hampshire meet its goal set in law that no child drop out of high school before age 18. the strength of the students i saw at the north country charter school graduation was extraordinary. students who had overcome particular challenges, whether it was personal, whether it was academic, speaking for themselves and about themselves and their vision of their own futures to a crowded, excited room of friends and family. that's another kind of public education that supplements our statewide public education system. and is something we can work together to do, holding all
schools accountable. the vision that mrs. devos, on the other hand, outlined and has devoted much of her work to would dismantle the progress we have made, diverting taxpayer dollars to private religious and for-profit schools without accountability requirements. mrs. devos advocates for a voucher system that leaves out students whose families cannot afford to pay additional tuition costs and leaves behind students with disabilities because the schools do not accommodate their complex needs. in his book, "our kids," robert putnam notes that education should be a mechanism to level the playing field, but today the inequality gap is growing because affluent students start
better prepared and are more able to pay. putnam also points out that daycare and transportation needs constrain the amount of choice that poor parents have when it comes to voucher programs. we should all be working to fix that gap, but the voucher programs that mrs. devos advocates for threaten to increase the gap. the system that mrs. devos advocated for in detroit, michigan, has undermined public schools and hurt students in the process. in 2014, michigan taxpayers spent $1 billion on charter schools, but laws regulating them are weak and the state demands little accountability. the "detroit free press" reported on the detroit school system, finding a system where school founders and employees
steered lucrative deals to themselves or to other insiders, where schools were allowed to operate for years despite their poor academic records. the "detroit free press" described a system with no state standards for those who operate charters and where a record number of charter schools run by for-profit companies refused to detail how exactly they are spending taxpayer dollars. one data mother said that mrs. devos' -- this is a quote -- push for charter schools without any accountability exposed my children and their classmates to chaos and unacceptable classroom conditions. in florida, the economy scholarship program voucher system for students with disabilities that mrs. devos has pointed to also raises significant concerns, including
no due process rights for students under idea, no accountability requirements for participating schools, and absolutely no evidence of student success. additionally, the mckay voucher often doesn't cover the full cost of the private school, leaving parents responsible for tuition and fees above the scholarship amount, not to mention responsibility for transportation. this puts students and their families at risk. rather than taking the approach we have in new hampshire where charter schools supplement a strong public education system, this system of unaccountable schools destabilizes and undermines public schools. now, given that mrs. devos' goals for k-12 education are
what they are, and the fact that we were only given five minutes to question her at the hearing, many key issues facing america's students weren't discussed at all in her confirmation hearing. in particular, we didn't talk about higher education. when i was governor of new hampshire, i was proud of our work to make college more affordable, building the 21st century work force pipeline for our businesses. we froze tuition for the first time in 25 years at our public university system, and we actually lowered it at our community colleges. we engaged in increasing and more robust job training efforts where we partnered businesses with community colleges or other learning centers to make sure that we were engaged in the kind of job training that would prepare students for the 21st century economy. so i was hoping that at our hearing for mrs. devos'
confirmation, we would discuss higher education, but issues relating to higher education have been lost altogether in this discussion. what is clear, though, is that mrs. devos has absolutely no experience in higher education. her written responses following our hearing were troubling. on student debt, pell grants, reauthorization of the higher education act and job training efforts, her responses were vague and offered no vision for issues that are critical to millions of americans. when asked about for-profit colleges, which have had a history of taking advantage of students, including but not limited to our veterans, mrs. devos said she was agnosti- about the tax filing status of
higher education institutions. that's just not acceptable. i believe we should be expanding pell grants. we should lower the interest rates on student loans. we should be expanding apprenticeship and job training opportunities. we need to crack down on predatory, for-profit colleges. we need an education secretary who understands and is able to focus on higher education and it's clear that mrs. devos does not have that experience or focus. mr. president, our founders understood that public education for our citizens was essential to the functioning of our democracy. in 1786 thomas jefferson wrote, and this is a quote, "i think by far the most important bill in
our whole code is that for the diffusion of knowledge among the people. no other sure foundation could be devised for the preservation of freedom and happiness. generation after generation has worked to build on those ideals, including as we do that work, more and more americans in the process and creating a system that gives all students an opportunity to succeed. we need an education secretary who is committed to upholding that principle, not rolling our progress back. and we should all be working together to ensure that we have strong neighborhood public schools, not dismantling them. i join with my colleagues here today and the thousands from my state who have made their voices heard.
we need just one more vote to defeat this nomination and to make clear that the united states senate truly values our nation's public schools. i surely hope that there's another senator willing to break with the president and vote against this woefully unqualified nominee. we all have learned in this wonderful country of ours that with each generation as we include more and more people who have been marginalized, left out, who weren't counted, that when we include them, we certainly honor their freedom and dignity, important and sufficient of course in its own right, but then when we do that, we also unleash the talent and energy of everyone and that that strengthens us all, helps us
thrive, helps our economy grow, and make sure that america not only leads but deserves to. it's our job in the senate to listen to the thousands speaking up for our children and the public education system that serves all americans. thank you, mr. president. i suggest the absence of a quorum. the presiding officer: the clerk will call the roll. quorum call: quorum call:
a senator: mr. president? the presiding officer: the senator from indiana. a senator: mr. president? quorum call? i ask that the quorum call be lifted. the presiding officer: without objection. a senator: mr. president, i rise today to speak about the nominee for secretary of education, betsy devos. mr. donnelly: i'm here to not only reiterate any concerns with ms. devos but share the letters and e-mails i received from hoosiers about her nomination. every hoosier and every american deserves access to a quality education. it prepares our students to enter the work force, to secure good paying jobs and to succeed. as i have said after reviewing
the record of ms. devos, i believe she lacks the commitment to public education needed to effectively lead the department of education. i am deeply concerned she will not focus on priorities important to hoosier families. expanding access to early childhood education, improving our public schools, and addressing increasing student loan debt. now i want to share some of the concerns i have heard from people all across indiana about betsy devos. a current undergraduate student at perdue urging me to vote against betsy devos. the student wrote as follows: i am concerned she will cause major damage not only to our public k-12 schools of which i graduated from but also to federal student aid programs which allow many of my fellow students and i to attend our nation's fantastic public universities.
the mother of three children in fishers wrote, i believe our democracy needs well funded and accountable public schools for all. ms. devos demonstrates little interest in supporting strong public education. for the future of our children, our democracy, and our standing in the global economic system, i ask you vote against ms. devos. a soon to be college graduate who's pursuing a career in public education wrote, i will be graduating from indiana wesleyan university in marion. very spent the past semester student teaching at a local school district in gas city, indiana. one of the largest regions i wanted to embrace a career in public education is to push students to see their potential, just as i had a teacher do the same for me. teaching is not simply facilitating learning but rather it is taking the time to fully
invest in our students, getting to know our students, listening to what they have to say, and using the resources presented to best prepare them to succeed. i've been able to see this firsthand and put this into practice as i have been in three different school districts throughout my time at indiana wesleyan. as a soon to be teacher in the state of indiana, i ask you to consider voting no on the nomination of betsy devos for secretary of education. i chose this path as it directly impacted me, and i want to see students find success. with the right reform, we can see this happen, but with the suggestive reforms by betsy devos, we will not be able to help students succeed. here's another story. this one from munsey.
as a mother in public education advocate, i'm writing to request you vote no on the appointment of betsy devos as secretary of education. as you are aware, there are many challenges facing education in the united states. mrs. devos' track record in the state of michigan would be devastating to the country as a whole if she were to be given the position of secretary of education. for the sake of my children, their dedicated teachers and children across the nation, i respectfully request a no vote to her appointment. a woman in zionsville wrote as follows -- i feel the devos agenda plans a dangerous voucher program that robs public schools of money and allows unprecedented support of k-12 programs with opaque standards curriculum and accountability. in indiana, we have struggled
with the skills gap in graduating students that are prepared for the available work force positions. i beg you to speak out against the appointment of mrs. devos as secretary of education. hoosiers have the right to an educational system that strives for high standards, for transparency, for success. i don't believe the devos model will be able to deliver on any of those fronts. a retired special education teacher who taught in mishewaka for 24 years wrote i implore you to vote no on the confirmation of betsy devos as secretary of education. her selection by drop was clearly an attempt to -- by donald trump was clearly an attempt to further dismantle the public school system in the united states. the poor, the disadvantaged, the disabled, working families would suffer great educational setbacks with her as secretary
of education. a woman in west lafayette wrote as a future special education teacher, i find it horrifying that mrs. devos seems to be unaware of the idea act, which protects the rights of millions of children with disabilities. it is completely unacceptable that our country should have someone in charge of education who is unaware of this monumental law. education is so important for the future of this country, and everyone deserves equal opportunity to get a good education. this is why i ask you to please vote no on mrs. devos. in a letter from greenwood, a woman wrote as a mother of two children, one with severe disabilities, please know i don't support betsy devos as
secretary of education. i can only hope you will bear with me as i offer the story of my son below. my son was born full term and healthy. from 18 hours until two weeks old, he fought for his life. at two weeks old, a heart defect was discovered. next was heart surgery, recovery, and he was home at exactly 1 month old, saying we were ill prepared for the future would be an understatement to say the least. we had no way of knowing the repair to his heart would not also repair all the damage done to his brain and his body. he was eventually gifted multiple diagnoses -- cerebral palsy, congenital heart disease,
significant mental and physical disabilities and severe gerd. to match the diagnoses, he was also provided coordinating medical equipment, wheelchair, communication device, standing equipment, a special seating device, feeding pump, and leg braces. skip ahead to today, and you will discover a 15-year-old doing his absolute best to find his place in this quick-paced world. it took a long time, but over the past three to four years, he mastered his communication device and has shown he is capable of learning and understanding. while it look all this time for him to show us, it also took the relentless dedication of very,
very special teachers to really make it happen. his teachers worked tirelessly to develop extremely specific individualized education plans for him. i am certain without the individuals with disabilities education act and free appropriate public education, he would not have achieved his current level of learning. i also feel his teachers would not have been able to get him to this level without the right educational tools in our public schools. i wanted you to feel my emotions and how difficult his life truly is. please don't make his education any harder than it already has been. a former public school teacher in indianapolis wrote i watched all of betsy devos' senate
confirmation hearing. as the minutes turned by, fear, fury and grief built within me. i will not sit back and watch as the nominee for secretary of education prepares to take the helm who does not commit to protecting children in public schools. i hope you stand with me to reject betsy devos for secretary of education. we must commit our care, our love and our attention to upholding the promise that all kids deserve a shot at success through education. these kids are our future, and we owe it to them to lead wisely. unfortunately, mrs. devos will not lead us to that future. a mom in evansville wrote i have one child in college and two
others in public elementary schools. my children have received and are getting a very good education in public school and are in advanced classes. i am very concerned about the appointment of a woman who has been advocating against our public schools for years. we must do better for our children. please fight for our public schools and our children and do everything in your power to keep betsy devos from becoming our secretary of education. this is just a small sampling of the letters and e-mails i have received from hoosiers all over our state who are deeply troubled and who are opposed to betsy devos. they wrote to me not as republicans or as democrats or independents, but as concerned hoosiers, as moms and dads who love their kids, and they were
worried about an issue we should all be able to agree on, the importance of insuring our children have the access to a quality education. while i have said i will vote against betsy devos' nomination, i will continue to fight for our public schools, our teachers, our students. i'll continue fighting for them because insuring our students have access to good schools and good teachers lays a foundation for our students to reach their potential, and the potential that is fundamental to their success and in turn our country's success. we love our schools, we love our kids, and all we want is the best for them and an extraordinary education. that's why i will be voting against betsy devos for secretary of education.