News Releases

Murray: “I am absolutely committed to making sure that the federal government is a strong partner to our public schools, school districts, and states”

DeVos refused to commit to not cutting money from public education 

Murray pushed DeVos to support Office of Civil Rights; maintain strong protections for survivors of sexual assault

Murray has expressed concerns about DeVos’ nomination in Seattle Times, Columbian, Spokesman-Review, and explained why this nominee will face “stiff resistance” in New York Times

(Washington, D.C.) – Tonight, during a confirmation hearing for President-elect Trump’s nominee for U.S. Secretary of Education, U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) expressed serious concerns regarding Betsy DeVos’ long record fighting to privatize public schools and gut public education. Sen. Murray also asked Ms. DeVos about her extensive financial entanglements and potential conflicts of interest, and pushed for more information and transparency on her positions on funding and school vouchers, as well as her views on enforcing the civil rights of women and girls, religious minorities, and LGBTQ people. The full Senate is expected to vote on DeVos’ confirmation as Secretary of Education in the coming weeks.

Video of Senator Murray’s opening statement here.

Video of Senator Murray’s question on protecting funding and support for public schools and Betsy DeVos’ response here.

Transcript of exchange:

Murray: I really am troubled by some of the comments and things you said about public education – how you see the role of the department you’ve been nominated to lead now. So my first question for you really is – yes or no, that’s all I want is a yes or no – do you believe that the mission of the Department of Education should be to strengthen public education for all of our students?

DeVos: Yes, I do.

Murray: Good – so can you commit to us tonight that you will not work to privatize public schools or cut a single penny from public education?

DeVos: Senator – thanks for that question. Um…I look forward – if confirmed – to working with you to talk about how we address the needs of all parents and all students, and we acknowledged today that not all schools are working for the students that are assigned to them, and I’m hopeful that we can work together to find common ground and ways that we can solve those issues and empower parents to make choices on behalf of their children that are right for them.

Murray: I take that as not being willing to commit to not privatizing public schools or cutting money from education?

DeVos: Well, well, I guess wouldn’t characterize it in that way.

Murray: Well, ok.

Excerpts from Senator Murray’s opening remarks as prepared:

“The Department of Education specifically, has an important role to play in supporting, protecting, and investing in all students—from our youngest learners, to those in higher education, and adults and parents seeking to improve their skills mid-career.”

“I am going to want to learn more about your extensive financial entanglements and potential conflicts of interest. As a billionaire with hundreds, if not thousands, of investments made through complex financial instruments—many of which are made in ways that are not transparent and hard to track—you need to make it very clear how you will be avoiding conflicts of interest should you be confirmed. That goes for your investments, as well as the massive web of investments made by your immediate family.”

“I have major concerns with how you have spent your career and fortune fighting to privatize public education and gut investments in public schools. I will have some specific questions about how the privatization policies you have pushed have impacted students.  And how you intend to use the public trust and taxpayer dollars to support public education, and not continue to undermine schools and teachers from inside the Department as you have as an advocate on the outside.”

“I will want to make sure you publicly commit to implementing our Every Student Succeeds Act by upholding the strong federal guardrails in the law. And I will want to know how you would plan to tackle the persistent achievement gap.”

“While you have been outspoken on K-12 issues, your record and positions are not clear in a number of critical areas. So I am going to want to learn more about how you plan to approach higher education—and whether or not we can count on you to stand with students and borrowers…your thoughts on Title IX and how we can do everything possible to stop the scourge of campus sexual assault…and I am going to want to know more about how you will enforce critical civil rights laws.”

Senator Murray’s opening remarks as prepared:

“Thank you, Chairman Alexander. I look forward again to working with you and our colleagues this Congress. In particular, I want to welcome our new Members to this committee, Senators Kaine, Hassan and Young.

“Thank you Ms. DeVos for joining us here today. And welcome to your husband and the rest of your family who are joining us here today.

“This is the first of many hearings that we will be holding on President-elect Trump’s nominees to fill critical positions in the federal government. So I want to start by reiterating the importance of the Senate’s role in this process and this Committee’s role in the Senate’s work.  

“President-elect Trump has the right to fill his cabinet with people he thinks will carry out his vision for this country. But that doesn’t mean the Senate should be a rubber stamp—to the contrary. We owe it to the people we represent to make sure every nominee is not only qualified for the position and free of conflicts of interest, but that he or she will put families and workers first—and not millionaires, billionaires, or big corporations.

“President-elect Trump was the first presidential candidate in decades to not release his tax returns—and he is openly flouting ethics conventions regarding his personal and family businesses. But while some people say this means the bar has now been lowered for ethics in public service—I refuse to accept that, and I am going to continue to hold the incoming administration to the highest ethical standards. This is what the American people deserve regardless of who they voted for—where their tax dollars are going and who it is benefiting.

“I believe that in an Administration where lines around potential conflicts of interest are very likely to be blurred at the top, they need to be even clearer at the individual agencies—even while we in Congress work to ensure the highest ethical standards are maintained and that there is accountability to taxpayers from the top of the government all the way down.

“So I am going to continue pushing for robust scrutiny of every one of these nominees. And I appreciate that Ms. DeVos has said to me that she knows the importance of transparency and openness—that she is committed to addressing every ethical concerns and make sure no corners are cut—and that she would go to great lengths to make sure no corners are cut.

“However, I am extremely disappointed that we are moving forward with this hearing before receiving the proper paperwork from the Office of Government Ethics. When President Obama entered the White House, Republicans insisted on having an ethics letter in hand before moving to a hearing. In fact, Leader McConnell wrote a letter to Leader Reid making that explicit demand—an ethics letter in hand, with time to review—and an FBI background check—before a hearing was held. So I am extremely concerned. And I can only hope that cutting corners and rushing nominees through will not be the new norm.

 

“We are here today to hear from President-elect Trump’s nominee to lead the Department of Education. As a former preschool teacher and school board member—as well as a mom who got her start in politics fighting for public investments in early learning—I take this issue very seriously. I owe everything I have to the strong public schools I was able to attend with my six brothers and sisters. And none of us in my family would have been able to go to college were it not for robust federal support. We had those opportunities because our government was committed to investing in us—but I know that is not the case for every student in every community today.

“So although we have a long way to go, I am absolutely committed to making sure that the federal government is a strong partner to our public schools, districts, and states; that every student has access to a high quality public education that allows them to succeed; and that we focus our federal policies and investments on strengthening public schools for all students—and certainly not toward diverting taxpayer dollars to fund vouchers that don’t work for unaccountable private schools.

“That is why I was I was so proud to work with Chairman Alexander and so many others here today to pass our Every Student Succeeds Act, which gave flexibility to states and school districts, but also includes strong accountability for our schools and reiterates our nation’s commitment to strengthening public education—especially for our most vulnerable students and communities.

“This commitment goes beyond K-12 too, of course. I believe the federal government in general, and the Department of Education specifically, has an important role to play in supporting, protecting, and investing in all students—from our youngest learners, to those in higher education, and adults and parents seeking to improve their skills mid-career.

“So leading this agency is a big job. It’s an important job. And I consider it to be my job to do everything I can to make sure whoever fills it is truly committed to putting students and families first. So Ms. DeVos—I am looking forward to hearing your answers to some questions—since I have a number of very serious concerns that need to be addressed.

“First, I am going to want to learn more about your extensive financial entanglements and potential conflicts of interest. As a billionaire with hundreds, if not thousands, of investments made through complex financial instruments—many of which are made in ways that are not transparent and hard to track—you need to make it very clear how you will be avoiding conflicts of interest should you be confirmed. That goes for your investments, as well as the massive web of investments made by your immediate family.

“Despite starting off on the wrong track by not having an ethics letter complete before your hearing, I appreciate what you are doing to provide this Committee the information to understand how you intend to live up to the highest level of ethics and transparency. So far you have not accepted calls to release three years of tax returns, but I am hoping you reconsider this approach and that you are cooperating fully with the Office of Government Ethics.

“Second, I have major concerns with how you have spent your career and fortune fighting to privatize public education and gut investments in public schools. I will have some specific questions about how the privatization policies you have pushed have impacted students.  And how you intend to use the public trust and taxpayer dollars to support public education, and not continue to undermine schools and teachers from inside the Department as you have as an advocate on the outside.

“I will want to know more about the large contributions you have made to groups that are ideologically opposed to workers, including teachers, and that want to impose anti-LGBT or anti-women’s health beliefs on public schools and the students in them. I will want to make sure you publicly commit to implementing our Every Student Succeeds Act by upholding the strong federal guardrails in the law. And I will want to know how you would plan to tackle the persistent achievement gap.

“Third, while you have been outspoken on K-12 issues, your record and positions are not clear in a number of critical areas. So I am going to want to learn more about how you plan to approach higher education—and whether or not we can count on you to stand with students and borrowers.

“I am very interested in your thoughts on Title IX and how we can do everything possible to stop the scourge of campus sexual assault. I was not happy with how you talked about this issue when we met—but I am hopeful that you’ve learned more about it since then and are prepared to address it seriously.

“I am going to want to know how your personal religious and ideological views on women’s health and safety would impact how you would approach this issue in the Department. I am very concerned with what has been reported in the press about your views on the importance of the Office of Civil Rights, which works to ensure students with disabilities, LGBTQ students, religious minorities, women and girls, students of color, and all of our students are treated with dignity and respect. And I am going to want to know more about how you will enforce critical civil rights laws.

“And as my colleagues here know, I have a particular passion for early learning—and I am going to want to hear where you stand on how the federal government can help ensure that every child is prepared for success in kindergarten.

“Those are just a few issues—there are many more. So I am looking forward to a robust dialogue today. I am hoping you are transparent about your views, open about your record and the impact it has had on students—and willing to make some straightforward commitments regarding the core responsibilities of this Department and the role you hope to take in it.

“I will be asking you to commit to providing this Committee with additional information and responses to all reasonable follow-up questions as quickly as possible. And I am hopeful that this can be a smooth process that ends in the right decision being made for the students and families we represent.

“Thank you.”

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