Oregon’s Senator Jeff Merkley, Congressman Earl Blumenauer and Congresswoman Suzanne Bonamici on Friday held a press conference opposing the President’s nominee for U.S. Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos, citing the detrimental effects that her nomination could have on Oregon students and schools.
“DeVos has no understanding of public schools. She never attended nor worked in public schools; she didn’t send her children to them; I don’t know if she’s ever even volunteered at one,” Merkley said. “The only qualification that Ms. DeVos has to be in President Trump’s ‘Swamp Cabinet’ is the hundreds of millions of dollars that she and her family have donated to Republican candidates over the years. Pay-to-play has no place in our public schools.
“This issue is near and dear to my heart,” Merkley continued. “As a blue-collar kid, public schools helped me become the first in my family to go to college. Children today deserve the same chance, but they won’t get it if billionaires like Donald Trump and Betsy DeVos choke off public education and the opportunities it provides to working families. American taxpayers don’t need to pay for billionaires to send their kids to private school.”
At the event, Merkley received more than 1.4 million petition signatures from concerned Americans who have expressed their opposition to DeVos’ nomination through grassroots organizing group CREDO Action. He will deliver them to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell in Washington, D.C.
“Oregonians have made clear that they do not want a billionaire who has made a career out of undermining public education to be our next Secretary of Education. I agree,” Blumenauer said. “The nomination of Betsy DeVos is offensive to the state of Oregon and the federal government’s longstanding commitment to public education. She must be stopped.”
DeVos sparked national alarm after her confirmation hearing, in which she expressed support for defunding public schools, appeared unfamiliar with basic education policy, and stated that it was “best left to the states” whether publicly funded schools must follow federal civil rights laws protecting students with disabilities.
Eleanor Bailey, an Oregon woman with Down syndrome, graduated from Grant High School, and attended Portland State University and Portland Community College.
“I got a great education. It is not fair for younger people with disabilities to not have the same opportunities that I did,” she said. “Life is not always easy. Sometimes you have to fight to get what you want. Education is a right! Thank you Senator Merkley for supporting us and voting no on this nomination.”
Congresswoman Suzanne Bonamici, who serves on the House Education Committee and is founder and co-chair of the Congressional STEAM Caucus, said DeVos has no understanding of the complexity of curriculums or education policy.
“Our country’s public education system promises that all students have an opportunity to thrive academically and succeed no matter what path they take,” Congresswoman Bonamici said. “An Education Secretary should care about all students and be committed to strengthening public schools in every community. As a wealthy private philanthropist, Betsy DeVos promoted a singular policy agenda focused on moving a few students to private or parochial schools. DeVos’ vision offers depleted funding for our already cash-strapped public schools and an unregulated patchwork of institutions that aren’t accountable for upholding the right to a free, high-quality, and equal education for all students. During her confirmation hearing DeVos unmistakably failed the test. Children in Oregon and across the country deserve better.”
DeVos has been criticized for being uniquely unqualified to head the country’s public education system, with no experience in public schools, government, or public service.
“Betsy DeVos is an extreme right wing bigot with zero relevant experience as a public educator or administrator,” said Heidi Hess, Senior Campaign Manager for CREDO Action. “DeVos’ performance in her confirmation hearing clearly demonstrated that she is unfit to lead the department responsible for making sure American students are well educated and can compete in our global economy.
“The Senate must heed the call of the American people and reject DeVos’ confirmation,” Hess said.
State Sen. Sara Gelser, who serves on the Oregon Senate Education Committee and has a son with disabilities, said Betsy DeVos’ nomination is a threat to American students, and to the heart of the American commitment to equality of opportunity for all.
“Ms. DeVos has argued that school doors should be thrown wide open for guns because of grizzly bears, but that those same doors should not necessarily be opened to students with disabilities,” Sen. Gelser said. “That is unconscionable and undermines the premise of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act — arguably one of the most significant pieces of civil rights legislation in American history. IDEA has ensured that thousands of students with disabilities, like my own son, have had the right to a free and appropriate education. Thanks to IDEA, my son knows that he loves U.S. history, and is now on the path to employment and a satisfying life. Betsy DeVos threatens that for the next generation, and we cannot let that happen.”