DeVos to Urban School Leaders: I Support Public Schools


In perhaps her biggest mea culpa to date, Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, an ardent supporter of school choice and private school voucher programs, underscored her support for traditional public schools during remarks Monday.

“When it comes to the education of a child, I am agnostic as to the delivery system, or the building in which it takes place,” she told the Council of Great City Schools. “If a child is able to grow and flourish, it shouldn’t matter where they learn. I support great public schools and I support great public school teachers.”

The council, a coalition of 70 of the country’s largest urban school districts, educates more than 7 million students, the majority of which are low-income.

“We are proud of the fact that our schools accept everyone who walks through our doors,” said Felton Williams, chairman of the council’s executive committee and board member of the Long Beach Unified School District. “We don’t shy away from our challenges.”

In a carefully worded introduction, Williams said he hoped DeVos would meet with a small delegation of superintendents from urban school districts that the Council of Great City Schools represents in order to address and better understand their specific challenges.

Those challenges, which he ticked off in a list, include funding shortfalls, immigration and implementation issues associated with the new K-12 education law, the Every Student Succeeds Act.

“Some issues we’ll be able to work together on and some we will not,” Williams said. “But we welcome you to our house today.”

DeVos, in turn, tried to brush off her rough-and-tumble start to the position of education secretary, saying she was flattered to be portrayed on “Saturday Night Live” by Kate McKinnon, whom she said was younger than her son.

Despite emphasizing her support for traditional public schools, DeVos quickly steered her speech at the council’s annual legislative policy conference to the topic of school choice.

“In too many cities and states, parents are still denied the simple, but critical choice of what school their child attends,” DeVos said.

“My experiences in Michigan, as well as in states across our nation, have led me to some clear conclusions when it comes to education,” she said. “Parents know what is best for their children. Parents know better than any politician or administrator the unique needs of each of their children.”

DeVos highlighted the Indianapolis school district, which recently began handing over its poorest performing schools to outside operators. Under the new system, if a school is identified as failing, it’s either taken over by a charter operator or a non-profit and operates independently from the school districts. About 10 percent of students in Indianapolis attend such schools.

In addition, DeVos hailed a program in Denver that provides students from the city’s northeast and far northeast neighborhoods three opportunities to catch a bus to and from their school of choice each day, including Denver’s traditional public schools and public charter schools. She also touted an initiative in Cleveland that provides schools with funding to partner with Project Lead the Way to incorporate curriculum that focuses on science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM.

DeVos used the speech in part to skewer the previous administration for overstepping its authority and asking too much of teachers and schools administrators.

“Too often, the Department of Education has gone outside of its established authority and created roadblocks – wittingly or unwittingly – for parents and educators alike,” she said. “Under this administration, we will break this habit. No teacher in any classroom should feel like the Department of Education is holding them back. No district should feel like the Department of Education is hampering their ability to improve the learning environment for students.”

DeVos also focused her speech on the implementation of the new federal education law, the Every Student Succeeds Act, which she said will help free states from federal control and allow them to make decisions that work best for them.

“Let’s continue to move power away from Washington, D.C., and into the hands of parents, states and local leaders, mindful of the fact that ownership and responsibility go hand in hand,” DeVos said. “The U.S. Department of Education fully intends to support you in your efforts. This flexibility, the freedom from overreaching mandates from Washington is to empower you to better serve kids.”

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