by Félix Pérez
All eyes were on Claire McCaskill of Missouri as the Senate considered the nomination of Betsy DeVos for education secretary early last year. Because President Trump won Missouri with 57 percent of the vote, people wondered how she would vote on the high-profile nomination.
In the end, McCaskill cited DeVos’s support of private school vouchers as the deciding factor in her ‘no’ vote. DeVos was confirmed, but only after an unprecedented tie-breaking vote from Vice President Mike Pence.
McCaskill said, “Ms. DeVos has focused on one goal when it comes to education—robbing public schools of resources in order to boost private schools,” said McCaskill, a graduate of Hickman High School in Columbia, Mo. “I don’t think she even understands that in rural Missouri, there is no choice of private schools. So her plan would rob rural public schools and shift that money to private schools in more urban areas. That is unacceptable.” She added, “Putting Mrs. DeVos in charge of education in this country is nothing less than giving the back of our hand to rural America.”
McCaskill is running against Josh Hawley, who, as Missouri’s attorney general, filed a lawsuit that would eliminate protections for pre-existing medical conditions. Hawley’s campaign has received more than $27,000 from the DeVos family. Hawley has come under fire for claiming in a campaign stump speech that colleges and and universities are “giving students worthless degrees and indoctrinating them in far-left thinking.”
McCaskill has been a staunch defender of rural schools. She joined a bipartisan effort to restore the Secure Rural Schools Act. The law gives counties with forest service land within their borders an added boost of revenue for education, because federal land isn’t taxable. “Public schools are the beating hearts of our small towns and rural communities in Missouri—and I’m not about to let up in my fight to see them get the resources they need,” McCaskill said.
Her support for rural schools and opposition to DeVos and her school voucher plan are among the reasons McCaskill earned an ‘A’ on the National Education Association’s Legislative Report Card. Also included among her votes was opposing the Trump tax cut plan that risks $1.6 billion in state funding for Missouri public education over 10 years and more than Missouri 2,100 educator jobs this year alone, according to an NEA analysis.
McCaskill cosponsored legislation to allow individuals to refinance their high-interest federal student loans to the low rates offered to new federal student loan borrowers. The bill would also allow eligible students with high-interest private student loans to convert their private loans to government loans. “For thousands of Missouri’s young people, staggering student loan debt is strangling the economic opportunities that are supposed to come with a college degree. Every dollar paid in interest on that debt is a dollar not invested in a small business or a new home. I personally benefited from student loans when I was in school, and I’ll continue fighting to make sure that every student who works hard gets a fair shot at an affordable college education.”
McCaskill has been recommended by the Missouri National Education Association in her senate run. The 35,000 members of Missouri NEA are public school teachers, librarians, counselors, coaches, school psychologists and psychiatrists, administrators and faculty in colleges and universities, bus drivers and custodians, teacher aides and paraprofessionals, nurses, school secretaries and food service workers.