By Mark Waite
U.S. Rep. Shelley Berkley, D-Nev., attacked statements by her opponent, Republican U.S. Senator Dean Heller, for advocating the elimination of the U.S. Department of Education as well as his record on education, during an appearance at Great Basin College Wednesday.
Berkley said she was a member of the Nevada Board of Regents from 1990 to 1998, who didn’t finish paying off her law school loans until she was a member of the Nevada Assembly.
“I wouldn’t be standing in front of you as not only a congresswoman from the State of Nevada, but also a candidate for the United States Senate without the education I received,” she said.
“As students do get ready for the new year, Nevada parents, students, teachers and principals rely on the U.S. Department of Education for grants and funding and scholarships in order to ensure that our students here in Nevada have what they need to thrive and compete on the global market. Why is this important? Because children in Nevada are no longer competing with the kids from Montana or Mississippi or New York, we’re competing with the Indians and children from China and other emerging economies throughout the world and they’re pouring billions of dollars into their education system,” Berkley said.
“While I’m working for teachers and students, Senator Dean Heller is advocating eliminating the entire Department of Education. That seems a bit radical to me,” she said.
The U.S. Department of Education has worked toward providing an affordable education to all, an education for disabled and special needs children, as well as global competitiveness, Berkley said. Eliminating that federal department would also eliminate aid to rural schools, adult education programs, aid to career and technical schools, tribal schools and programs for safer schools, she said.
“He also advocates slashing Head Start by 20 percent, that would force 218,000 children off the Head Start program. That provides our youngsters with a leg up and gives them an opportunity to start learning before they go into kindergarten. It’s a very important program. He voted to cut the Pell Grant funding for Nevada students trying to go to college,” Berkley said.
She said Heller also opposed an overhaul of the student loan program that provides tens of billions toward scholarships.
In taking a jab at Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, Berkley said, “I know if you ask Gov. Romney he’ll say if you want an education, all you have to do is ask your parents for a loan. There were some of us that could’ve asked until the cows come home.”
She said Heller votes for Wall Street corporations, big oil and giant insurance companies, not ensuring Nevada students have the resources for a good quality education.
“I worked my way through school as many of you know, as a waitress and a keno runner and a shoeshine girl,” Berkley said. “That’s why I support an increase to Pell grants. I know what it’s like living on $10 per week for food and trying to make your monthly rental payments along with the four other kids that were living in the apartment with you and that’s why I’m committed to fighting to keep student loan rates low, to make higher education accessible.”
Berkley said she read in the Wednesday newspaper about how Nevada has the highest ratio of students to teachers in the classroom.
“That’s why I know our teachers could use a little help and that’s why I voted to protect 160,000 teachers from layoffs and support efforts to do hiring and retraining more teachers. I believe my opponent voted against that legislation. I will continue to work for a tax deduction for teachers’ out of pocket expenses for classroom supplies, because our budgets are very, very tight, so many teachers go into their own pocket for construction paper and rulers and crayons for their kids,” she said.
She vowed to fight attempts to cut funding for Head Start programs.
Berkley compared Senator Heller’s comments on eliminating the U.S. Department of Education, to Texas Gov. Rick Perry bumbling a question on which three federal departments he would eliminate during a debate in the presidential campaign.
“This is kind of a throw-away for Dean; he doesn’t know the ramifications for the people in this state or he certainly wouldn’t have even suggested it,” Berkley said.
The congresswoman was asked about money to retrain the unemployed. Berkley said, “I don’t have to tell anybody in this room how tough things are right now; people come over to me all the time, they go, ‘congresswoman, I never missed a day of work, I never missed a mortgage payment, I lost my job, I lost my home. What am I going to do?’ And I think the answer to this question is what this election is all about.”
She said Heller voted nine times at last count, to continue subsidies to big oil companies that made $137 billion in profits last year.
Berkley was introduced by Lisa Kohbarger and Pahrump Town Board member Tom Waters.