Speeches & Floor Statements

Floor Speech: Alexander floor remarks before DeVos vote

Posted on February 7, 2017

Alexander floor remarks before DeVos vote

I'm voting for Betsy DeVos because she will implement our law fixing No Child Left Behind the way we wrote it, to restore control to classroom teachers and legislators. And because she has been at the forefront of public charter schools and worked tirelessly to give low-income children more of the same kind of choices wealthy families have. 

Twenty-two governors in this country support Betsy DeVos, as well as former governor Jeb Bush, former governor Mitt Romney, former governor John Engler and 462 organizations and elected officials – they all support Betsy DeVos for education secretary.

Was there not enough time to question her? I wonder, Mr. President. We treated her like we treated president Obama's secretaries. In December, she offered to meet with Senate Democrats and they refused. She finally met with them in their offices. 

Then follow-up questions: Republicans asked President Obama's education secretaries 53 and 56 questions. Democrats asked her 1,400 questions and then they met [at the retreat] and one of their members announced that they’d all agreed to vote against her – before she had a chance to answer the questions. What does that say about those questions? 

She has conflicts of interest? We have a process for that. We have a procedure for that. An independent conflict of interest office, the Office of Government Ethics, the head nominated by President Obama, confirmed by the Senate. He has an agreement with every cabinet member about conflicts of interest. He wrote a letter to us eight days before we voted on her and said she would have no conflict of interest if she followed this agreement. 

So plenty of time for questions, no conflict of interest. What's the problem? 

One, her support for public charter schools. Some people don't like that. But 2.9 million children attend them. They were founded by the Democratic-Farmer-Labor party in Minnesota. They have grown to 6,800 schools. They are the most effective school reform in years.

School choice: what's wrong with giving Americans better choice for schools? We've done it since the G.I. Bill of 1944. Taxpayer money following veteran students to Notre Dame, Yeshiva, Harvard--has it hurt the economy? It helped them. Then more people went to private schools. Now more go to public colleges. 

Betsy DeVos has committed to no more Washington mandates, no more national school board. No Washington mandates for vouchers, no Washington mandates for Common Core, no Washington mandates for specific kinds of teacher evaluation with Betsy DeVos in charge of the Department of Education. 

One year ago we had no education secretary. I asked President Obama to appoint one. Even though I knew he would appoint John King, with whom I disagreed. I promised that if he did, we would promptly confirm him, and we did. We asked him 56 questions, not 1,397. We didn't say he had conflicts of interest when the Office of Government Ethics said he did not. 

I know my friends are surprised about the election, but wouldn't they be really surprised if he appointed someone from within the education establishment to be the secretary of education? Wouldn't you be surprised that a Republican president would be for charter schools? Are you really surprised that a Republican president has appointed an education secretary who wants to give low-income children more choices of schools? Are you surprised that the Republican president has nominated an education secretary who wanted to reverse the trend to a national school board and restore local control? 

I'm supporting her because she wants to do that, because she's led the most effective public school reform movement over the last few years. I would say to my Democratic colleagues, we confirmed President Obama's education secretary in seven days from the day he was inaugurated. We confirmed his second one in three weeks. 

You may disagree with the new president, but the people elected him and I urge you to give the new Republican president the opportunity to choose his own education secretary, just like we did the Democratic president eight years ago and a year ago, even though we disagreed just as much with their view of federal policy on local schools as you do with her policy and President Trump's policy on school choice. 

Mr. President, I urge a yes vote.