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Senator Murray, the top Democrat on the Senate education appropriations subcommittee, questioned Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos during a hearing today

Murray pressed DeVos on her plan to keep students, teachers, staff safe following school closures in Washington state

Murray pressed DeVos on her proposed education budget cuts

***WATCH SENATOR MURRAY’S OPENING REMARKS HERE***

***WATCH SENATOR MURRAY’S QUESTIONING HERE***

Washington, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-WA), the top Democrat on the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and Related Agencies, called on Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos to outline the Department’s coronavirus preparedness plan and pressed her on her proposed education budget cuts at a Senate Appropriations Committee hearing.

In her opening remarks, Senator Murray discussed how the spread of novel coronavirus in Washington state has affected students, teachers and staff, and has even led to the large Northshore School District announcing a closure for up to 14 days. Senator Murray also asked Secretary DeVos for details on how the Department is working with state and local officials to protect the health and safety of students, teachers and staff, particularly students with disabilities, students from families experiencing food insecurity, and students experiencing homelessness. Senator Murray’s questioning followed her official request earlier this week for Secretary DeVos to provide details about the Department of Education’s coronavirus task force and preparedness.

“I know you established a task force to help schools prepare for 2019 novel coronavirus outbreak. But, the Administration’s response so far hasn’t inspired confidence—quite the opposite. Parents, students, and teachers need facts, they need to know what to do so they can respond effectively. So I want to make certain today that you are doing everything you can to support school districts, colleges, teachers, other school staff and students during this time,” said Senator Murray in her opening remarks.

Senator Murray also asked Secretary DeVos to explain why her disastrous education budget proposal completely ignores the needs of hardworking students, educators, and families and does nothing to improve our K-12 public schools, make higher education more affordable, or help those struggling to repay their student loan debt. She also slammed the Administration’s federal private school voucher tax scheme, a proposal that would shift resources away from public education and into unaccountable private schools.

“Secretary Devos, the proposed budget you are here to defend fails to invest in our public schools, educators, students and families and ignores the voices of educators in my home state of Washington and across the country. Schools and educators have voiced their concerns time and again. They do not have the resources they need to meet the needs of every student, nor are they properly compensated for the important work they do,” said Senator Murray in her opening remarks.

Senator Murray’s openings remarks as prepared for delivery:

“Mr. Chairman, thank you for holding this hearing.  This is an important opportunity for us to hear from Secretary DeVos about her budget proposal, receive answers to our questions, and understand more about the Department’s use of taxpayer resources.”

“And first, I want to talk about coronavirus—an issue that families, students, teachers, and other educators across the country are worried about, especially in my home state of Washington.”

“Schools across the state of Washington have had to cancel classes and one will remain closed for the rest of the week at the recommendation of county public health officials.”

“And I had a message sent to me in the middle of the night by my own daughter that her school district is closing down for two weeks at least. So this is really impacting families.”

“And tragically, as of today, 11 deaths have already been reported, and 10 of those have been in Washington state.”

“This is truly a serious crisis. We need every agency in this Administration to respond quickly and thoroughly.”

“We must plan properly for continued school operations and ensure in the event of school closures, that the millions of families who rely on school meals continue to have access to those nutrition programs and that to the extent possible, schools can still provide educational services to students and their families.”

“I am also concerned by media reports describing bullying, harassment, and discrimination in schools targeted at students of Asian descent.”

“The Department should ensure school districts understand their responsibility to prevent and address this type of harassment and discrimination. I appreciate that you reminded school leaders about their responsibility to prevent discrimination yesterday.”

“I know you established a task force to help schools prepare for 2019 novel coronavirus outbreak. But, the Administration’s response so far hasn’t inspired confidence—quite the opposite.”

“Parents, students, and teachers need facts, they need to know what to do so they can respond effectively. So I want to make certain today that you are doing everything you can to support school districts, colleges, teachers, other school staff and students during this time.”

“I can tell you from what I already know, President Trump’s “Budget for America’s Future” presents a vision that is deeply harmful to students and families.”

“This budget cuts vital services for families who have low incomes, requests another $2 billion for the unnecessary border wall the President promised Mexico would pay for, and breaks the budget deal we just reached on the discretionary spending caps by proposing to reduce non-defense discretionary spending by $37 billion in fiscal year 2021.”

“As a result, the fiscal year 2021 budget for the Department of Education is slashed by more than $6 billion—or 8.5 percent—below the bipartisan bill we agreed to last December.”

“Secretary Devos, the proposed budget you are here to defend fails to invest in our public schools, educators, students and families and ignores the voices of educators in my home state of Washington and across the country.”

“Schools and educators have voiced their concerns time and again. They do not have the resources they need to meet the needs of every student, nor are they properly compensated for the important work they do.”

“Instead of helping educators and students, your budget proposes to consolidate 29 elementary and secondary education programs into an unauthorized block grant.”

“This block grant would cut $4.8 billion below current funding for the programs you propose to consolidate.”

“This proposal would eliminate more than $91 million in formula grant funding for elementary and secondary education for Washington state public schools.”

“That’s almost one-quarter of what Washington schools are currently getting to support public education, particularly for students from families with low-incomes.”

“This is just in Washington state—every member here would see similar reductions in their state.”

“It appears President Trump has no concern about increasing federal deficits when it involves giveaways for the wealthy elite and corporations in the 2017 Republican tax bill, but chooses to cut billions from public schools around the nation all in the name of ‘fiscal discipline.’”

“To make matters worse, at the same time, the President’s budget proposes providing $5 billion annually for a federal private school voucher tax scheme called ‘Education Freedom Scholarships.’”

“This proposal would divert federal tax revenues that could be used to invest in public education by establishing a new tax credit for individuals and corporations that make donations that expand state-developed private school voucher programs.”

“Let's be clear: this ‘tax-credit scholarship’ scheme is just another attempt to advance a disastrous privatization agenda by shifting resources away from public education and into unaccountable private schools.”

“The Orlando Sentinel investigated one of these programs in Florida and found that the program allowed the participation of 83 private schools that refused to admit LGBTQIA+ students, or could expel them if their sexual orientation or gender identity was made public.”

“It’s appalling that this budget could dedicate federal resources to programs that support such blatant discrimination against students and school staff yet cuts billions from federal support for public schools attended by more than 90 percent of the nation’s students.”

“The budget also does nothing to address the college affordability crisis facing our nation.”

“Instead, it proposes to cut more than $1.6 billion from grants and work-study that will force students to borrow more, while dramatically reducing benefits for student loan borrowers—even eliminating loan forgiveness for student borrowers who become teachers or enter other public service professions.”

“Secretary DeVos, I also have concerns about a range of your policies.”

“Specifically, I’m concerned about your partial-relief formula that would eliminate $11 billion in relief for more than 210,000 borrowers around our country, including more than 6,000 in my home state of Washington.”

“Time and time again, you seem to put the interests of predatory, for-profit colleges ahead of students.”

“I have serious concerns about the fact that you reinstated the failed-accreditor, ACICS, that accredited Reagan National University, which an investigation by USA Today recently reported does not have any faculty or staff.”

“I am also deeply concerned about your proposed Title IX rule that would weaken protections for survivors of campus sexual harassment and assault, and make it easier for K-12 schools, colleges, and universities to avoid accountability for student safety.”

“Let me be clear: this is not about ‘restoring balance,’ this is about silencing survivors.”

“Your rule will make it that much harder for a student to report an incident, while making it that much easier for a school to sweep it under the rug.”

“Mr. Chairman, we’ve worked together previously to reject the Administration’s harmful budget requests—from proposals to gut funding for students, teachers, and public schools, and proposals to gut funding for students struggling to afford college, to requests for Secretary DeVos’ privatization agenda.”

“This was only possible because we worked together and found common ground. I hope we are able to do that again. Thank you.”

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