Mr. President, I ask that the quorum call be vitiated.
Mr. President, I rise today to speak in opposition to the nomination of Betsy DeVos for Secretary of Education.
My mom was a public school teacher, and she taught second grade until she was 70 years old. And she loved teaching. Her favorite unit was actually the monarch butterfly unit, where we would dress up as a monarch butterfly. And she would teach the kids about metamorphasis. And then the costume that she wore also to the supermarket. She was dressed as this big monarch butterfly with little antennas on her head and a sign that said to Mexico or bust, because that's where the monarch would fly on its way from Canada through Minnesota and down.
And actually it was at my mom's--the night before her funeral at the visitation, where I met a family that came up to me. And the mom was sobbing, and I didn't know what was going on. I'd never met them, and they had an older son with them who had a pretty severe disability. And she said, "You know, your mom had my kid here in school when he was in second grade. Now he was grown up, and he said he always loved that monarch butterfly unit. And after he graduated, your mom would continue to go to the grocery store. And that was why she would go to the store every year where he had gotten a job bagging groceries. And she would stand in the line in her monarch butterfly outfit for years, and give him a big hug when she got to the end of the line."
And that was my mom, and she loved her kids, and she was a devoted teacher. I went to public school through elementary to high school. My daughter went to public school. And I just leard that basic right that we have in this country that every child should have the right to educaiton. And so that led me, after reviewing the record of the hearing, talking to my colleagues on the committee--that we do not share, this nominee and I, the same value when it comes to public educaiton. I note that two of my Republican colleagues, Senator Collins and Senator Murkowski have come to the same conclusion.
One of the most troubling examples of Ms. DeVos's views came when she was questioned by two of my colleagues. And I note Senator Murray is here. We thank for her leadership on the Health, Education and Labor Committee. But two of my colleagues, Senator Maggie Hassan and Tim Kaine asked the nominee about whether schools should meet the standards outlined in the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, or as it's known, IDEA. Ms. DeVos said she would leave the decision of whether to offer equal educational opportunites to the states. This is simply unacceptable. It's not the kind of leadership we need. It's not why we have IDEA. And I think most education professionals nad people who are experts in this area would know that that is not the answer.
I occupy the Senate seat that was once held by Minnesota's own Hubert Humphrey. He was someone who, of course, was never at a loss for words. He delivered a speech to the Minnesota AFL-CIO 40 years ago, 40 years ago. And one line of that speech is just as appropriate and meaningful today as it was back then. He said, "The moral test of government is how that government treats those who are in the dawn of life, the children; those who are in the twilight of life, the elderly; and those who are in the shadows of life, the needy, the sick, and the disabled."
I submit that Ms. Devos's opposition toward providing equal education opportunities to students with disabilities does not meet that moral test. Her views are at odds with decades of bipartisan support for IDEA. In 1975, when Congress passed the original version of IDEA, half of all children with disabilities were not receiving appropriate eduational services. And one million children with disabilities were excluded entirely from the public school system.
In an impassioned floor speech, then Senator and later Vice President Walter Mondale of Minnesot talked about the need for IDEA. Before the 1975 law, disabled children were placed in segregated schools and classes with little emphasis on an adequate education, training, or development. Many parents also gave up on the poor services also offered by the public schools. And as a result, disabled students remained at home.
To tackle this problem, Republicans and Democrats came together to pass legislation ensuring that students with disabilities would have equal access to public education, just like all other kids. The law guaanteed and continues to guarantee today--the federal law--that a free and appropriate public education to students with disabilities, that they get that. It is not a state-by-state requirement. It is a federal requirement.
In 1975, both Minnesota senators played a significant leadership role in enacting this groundbreaking civil rights legislation. Senator Humphrey called IDEA one of the most signiciant pieces of legislation and a major commitment in this nation--and this nation's commitment to its children. Then Senator Mondale argued that this landmark legislation holds the promise of new opportunity for seven million children in this country. And when Congress first enacted this law in 1975, this was not a partisan issue. The law passed both houses with overwhelming majorities. The Senate voted in favor of the landmark legislation by a margin of 87-7. The House by a vote of 404-7. Bipartisan support for IDEA grew stronger over time.
In 1991, President George H.W. Bush signed into law a bill that reauthorized the Disabilities Act. That bill was introduced by former Democratic Senator Tom Harkin and former Minnesota Republican Senator Dave Durenberger. The reauthorization was so uncontroversial that it passed by a voice vote in both the House and the Senate. Members from both parties supported IDEA when it was reauthorized again in 2003. Every single member of the Minnesota delegation. All ten, Democrat and Republican alike, supported IDEA's reauthorization that year.
For four decades, IDEA has garnered support from both sides of the aisle because we understand the need to support the most vulnerable among us. Every member of Congress knows a family member or a person who has been affected by disability. For a lot of lawmakers this is personal.
When my daughter was born, she couldn't swallow for nearly two years. She had a feeding tube, and the doctors didn't know what was wrong with her. It ended up being a temporary problem and not a permanent disability, but those two years I still look back at as a gift. They werre a gift. It brought our family closer together. But they were a gift because they made me understand what parents of kids with disabilities face every single day. This wasn't just a temporary thing for the parents I met. This was something they faced every single day.
Since the passage of IDEA, our nation has moved to fulfill the promise of providing a high quality education to kids with disabilities. Today, more than 4.7 million children with disabilities rely on IDEA to protect their access to high quality education. Over the last 40 years, the Democratic and Republican members that have come before me have all fought to preserve those critical rights and opportunities. These are American values, but they are especially near and dear to our state where we have this long and proud tradition of working to ensure that people with disabilities have access to the same basic resources and opportunities as everyone else.
This is not just the original work by Senators Humphrey and Mondale, Kerry Donn, of course, and Senator Durenberger. But it happend in our state, as well. To cite a few examples, it was the Minnesota ramp project that introduced a new American model for building statewide: standardized wheelchair ramps. Minneosta was the state that sent Paul Wellstone to the United States Senate, where he fought long and hard for mental health parity. My state is also home to some of the most innovative centers for the disabled in the country, including Pacer, the Courage Center, and ARC.
When it comes to educating children with disabilities, Minnesota has also been one of the nation's leaders. In 1957, our state became one of the first states in the nation to pass a law requiring that special education services be provided to children and youth with disabilities. And our state, from birth to adulthood, kids with disabilities have access to the quality of life that they deserve. Through IDEA, our state is able to receive federal funding for early intervention services, which help diagnose disabilities or developmental delays among infants and toddlers. Minnesota also provides each child with a disability in their family a personalized K-12 education plan and the support needed to transition from high school to postsecondary education. These civil rights protections and funding under IDEA have always been an area of bipartisan cooperation among members of the Minnesota delegation. We would like to see even more funding. We don't want to see us move backward. At least one Minnesota Republican has cosponsored every version of IDEA and its reauthorizations over the last 40 years.
We have never had a Secretary of Education who has put these commonsense bipartisan benefits at risk. Today, over 124,000 Minnesota children rely on the protections in IDEA. I have heard from families in my state, and so many of them tell me how that federal law have made a real difference in their lives. A mom from Watertown, Minnesota, told me all about her son who was born with Down Syndrom. She is so thankful for the federal law, because this protection ensures that he can have everyday experiences like other kids. It allows her son to be fully integrated with the rest of the kids in his high school. And a result, he has developed many friendships and a strong social network. When she asks her son whether he likes school, he always says a resounding yes. A mother of two autistic kids who are deaf-blind reached out to me from Farmington, Minnesota. She tells me that she depends on IDEA because the law gives her an opportunity to participate in designing individualized education programs for her children. These program allow her to tailor the best possible educational plans. A woman from Lakeville, Minnesota, told me when her son was born with intellectual and developmental disabilities in the late 1980s, she was so worried about what his future would look like with the rest of his peers. Today she tells me he is a successful young adult who lives, learns, and works in his community.
During my time in the Senate, I have worked to share those Minnesota values that you hear resonating in those letters across the country. That's why I helped lead the push in Congress to successfully pass bipartisan legislation with Senators Burr and Casey called the Achieving a Better Life Experience, or ABLE Act--a law that will help people with disabilities and their families better plan for their futures. It's a law that Senator Obama signed. We have made progress in removing barriers and empowering people with disabilities. Of course, we know that the ABLE Act alone isn't enough.
We still need to ensure that the federal government lives up to its promise to support education for those with disabilities by enforcing and protecting the idea and fully funding special education. Providing equal educational opportunities for children with disabilities is an issue that cuts across partisan lines. It is an issue of decency and an issue of dignity. And I believe it is an issue that we must all stand behind as Americans.
I cannot support a nominee that would jeopardize the education of millions of disabled children across our country or someone that is not fully informed at her own hearing about such an important law.
We have continuously maintained and strengthened educational laws for children with disabilities because every child deserves a chance to succeed. I think about my mom and all those years of teaching 30 second graders at age 70. And I think about that boy who's now a man who at second grade had her as a teacher, and he had severe disabilities. But she did everything to make his learning experience as good as all the other kids that were in that class. And I think of how he loved that butterfly unit and felt the passion that mom brought to teaching it. And that in her own free time she would go visit him at his job at that checkout line in the grocery store in her butterfly outfit.
That's what integrating kids with disailities into our school system. And that's what special teachers and special education experts who see all children as special, they're all about. Thank you very much. And I urge my colleagues to join me in opposing Mrs. Devos's nomination. I yield.
Mr. President, my mom was a second grade teacher. And she taught second grade until she was 70 years old. That was her life's work. And I went to public school, and I send my daughter to public school. And it's really been the core of how I ended up in the United States Senate.
And after a close review of Ms. DeVos's hearing and the record, I've concluded like my colleagues on the Democratic side and two of the senators on the Republican side, that I cannot support her. I do not believe she's prepared for this job, and I don't believe she's committed to the kind of education that got my family from an iron ore mine in Minnesota to the United States Senate. Her lack of preparation showed when she was questioned about whether schools should meet the standards outlined by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. She said she would leave this decision to the states.
As I ntoed yesterday, I occupied the Senate seat once held by Minnesota's own Hubert Humphrey. He is someone who, of course, was never at a loss for words. He delivered a speech at the Minnesota AFL-CIO 40 years ago, and one line of that speech is just as approporiate today as it was back then. He said, "The mral test of government is how that government treats those who are in the dawn of life, the children. Those who are in the twilight of life, the elderly. And those who are in the shadows of life, the needy, the sick, and the disabled."
These civil rights protections and the funding we have seen under IDEA have always been an area of bipartisan cooperation. And I have heard from so omany parents in my state. A mom from Watertown who has a son that was born with Down Syndrome, who says that thanks to IDEA, this law has given her the opportunity for her son to participate in a normal education. A woman from Lakeville, her son was born with developmental disabilities in the late 1980s. She was so worried about what his future would be, and then that law was in place, and today he's a successful young adult who happily lives, learns, and works in his community.
So my question of Senator Murray is what her views are of the nominee's qualifications when it comes to the Americans with Disabilities Act and the concern that she's heard from others in her state as well as across the country when it comes to this very important issue for children?