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Op-ed: Why I voted to confirm Betsy DeVos for Secretary of Education

Posted: 9:35 AM, Feb 08, 2017
Updated: 2017-02-08 17:29:30-05

The U.S. Senate voted Tuesday to confirm Betsy DeVos as U.S. Secretary of Education. President Trump's controversial nomination received a 51-50 vote, with the tie broken by Vice President Mike Pence.

Rob Portman is the Republican senator from Ohio and a Terrace Park resident.

WASHINGTON -- Betsy DeVos is the daughter of a public school teacher, and I support her for the role of U.S. Secretary of Education because she has made clear in the nomination process that she will be a strong advocate for our kids and our public schools.

An important fact that has been missed in the debate over her nomination is that she strongly supports local control of education, meaning she has pledged not to impose her own views on states and local school districts, but rather to allow them – along with parents – to make the decisions that best fit the needs of their children. She has also pledged to implement the laws as Congress intended them.

That includes a bipartisan reform of federal education policy that was signed into law a little over a year ago. This new law takes important steps toward returning education standards to those who know the students best: parents, teachers, and their local school boards.

Sen. Portman

This law rolled back federal policies that impose top-down, one-size-fits-all standards like Common Core on to states like Ohio and it will help end over-reliance on standardized tests, a problem teachers across Ohio have told me again and again was keeping them from doing their jobs. According to the Wall Street Journal, this bipartisan reform is the “largest devolution of federal control to the states in a quarter-century.”

The new law also contains four bills I authored: One will help homeless kids; one will increase access to prevention and support services for kids who have a drug-addicted family member or struggle with addiction themselves; one to help kids from low-income families get access to college credits by allowing them to earn those credits while they’re still in high school, and one will increase access to Career and Technical Education (CTE), formerly known as vocational school.

As the founder of the Senate Career and Technical Education Caucus, I’m pleased that Secretary DeVos has called CTE an “important priority” and agrees that we must do more to give our young people the job skills to help them succeed.

I’ve introduced legislation to let kids from low-income families use student aid for job training programs and I’ve introduced legislation with Senator Tim Kaine of Virginia to financially support partnerships between schools and employers. I’m pleased that Secretary DeVos has said she will be an ally on these efforts to give students more options and greater access to CTE.

We must also work to protect the rights of students with disabilities to ensure they have access to a high-quality education. Betsy DeVos has made clear she will enforce the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), -- which funds special education in Ohio and across the country -- and to “protect the hard won rights of students with disabilities.”

I also agree with Betsy DeVos that we must do more to make college education more affordable. Americans now owe $1.2 trillion in student loan debt, and that’s forcing a lot of our young people to put off some of life’s biggest milestones, like buying a house.

These young people are the reason why I’m sponsoring legislation called The Repay Act, which would ensure that students don’t have to pay more than 15 percent of their take-home pay each month on student loans. Students are facing enormous challenges today, and we must do more to increase access to quality, and affordable higher education options.

Finally, as was the case with President Obama’s nominees, I believe that presidents deserve considerable deference as they put together their team. I made this point when I was one of a handful of Republicans to support Attorney General nominee Loretta Lynch.

Secretary DeVos has earned the support of many prominent education leaders on both sides of the aisle, including former Washington, D.C. Mayor Anthony Williams and former Democratic nominee for Vice President Joe Lieberman, who says that she is “ready to take on this assignment and do it very well.”

Our own governor, John Kasich, says that “(DeVos) has made a difference in the lives of thousands of school children. She is well qualified to serve as education secretary.”

There has been a lot of misinformation circulated about Betsy DeVos, and I appreciate the chance to set the record straight.

I have heard from thousands of Ohioans on every side on this issue and I respect their views. I understand the passion that so many feel about education. I share that passion.

I’m going to hold Betsy DeVos to her commitments and continue to fight for policies that give our children a better chance to succeed. By empowering local communities and parents, we can give them not just a better education, but a better future.