Betsy DeVos Met 2018's Top Teachers & They Tore Into Her About School Choice Policies
According to a HuffPost report, a private meeting between America's top teachers and Betsy DeVos got heated after some brought up teacher strikes, voucher programs, and school choice policies. When it came to the effect of school choice policies on public education, some teachers expressed their worries to DeVos but told HuffPost that their concerns weren't adequately addressed by the Education Secretary.
The tension developed at an educators meeting on Monday afternoon, according to HuffPost, where dozens of 2018 teachers of the year from different states discussed the condition of public schools with DeVos. Oklahoma's teacher of the year, Jon Hazell, spoke with DeVos about how school choice policies — which she strongly supports — were causing a drainage of students from public schools.
Hazell told HuffPost, "I said, 'You're the one creating the 'bad' schools by taking all the kids that can afford to get out and leaving the kids who can’t behind.'" Hazell told the publication that he was referring to general school choice policies when he mentioned the "bad" schools.
At its core, school choice policy says that students should have the power to choose private education if public schools don't meet their needs. On its surface, it seems like a reasonable idea. But critics, especially public school teachers, say that the policy takes desperately-needed funds from struggling public schools. Teachers, such as members of the National Education Association, have protested DeVos' confirmation given her history of support for school choice policy, among other reasons.
California's teacher of the year, Brian McDaniel, confirmed Hazell's account to HuffPost and said that DeVos and Hazell seemed to have a "verbal sparring session." Another teacher of the year, Texas' Tara Bordeaux, confirmed Hazell's description of the event to HuffPost and said that his questions reflected the apprehension of "a lot of educators right now."
Although DeVos answered questions and concerns for half an hour, according to HuffPost, she didn't get the chance to address everyone's query. And that apparently left some teachers disappointed. "I think a lot of us were grateful about having the opportunity to speak with the secretary and be in the presence of the Department of Education," McDaniel told HuffPost. "However, I left with more questions than answers."
McDaniel added that as a music teacher, he was wondering if DeVos would work on financially strengthening musical programs for students. The Education Secretary told McDaniel that she would look into the issue. Both Hazell and McDaniel said that DeVos was amicable in her behavior but they told HuffPost that their questions weren't met with satisfactory answers.
In its report, HuffPost also shared a recorded exchange between another teacher, Arizona's teacher of the year Josh Meibos, and DeVos. Meibos brought up the recent teacher strikes in Arizona and asked DeVos when she'd begin to listen to teachers who "are in charge of our students."
As people who have been teaching for decades, Meibos said that it was imperative to understand the demands of teachers protesting in the state. At first DeVos said that she could not "comment specifically to the Arizona situation" but that she hoped "adults would take their disagreements and solve them not at the expense of kids and their opportunity to go to school and learn."
The Education Secretary could also be heard saying, "I’m very hopeful there will be a prompt resolution there" and that "I hope that we can collectively stay focused on doing what’s right for individual students and supporting parents in that decision-making process as well. And there are many parents that want to have a say in how and where their kids pursue their education, too."
DeVos' response did not land favorably with some of the teachers, per HuffPost. Montana's teacher of the year, Melissa Romano, said, "For her to say at the 'expense of children' was a very profound moment and one I’ll remember forever, because that is so far from what is happening." At this moment, neither DeVos nor the Department of Education have commented on HuffPost's report.