Betsy DeVos held a private round-table meeting with top teachers and educators on Monday at which she was strongly criticized for her policies as Education Secretary, including by Oklahoma teacher of the year, Jon Hazell. Referring to charter schools and voucher programs for private schools, Hazell criticized DeVos’ policies as contributing to the reduction of badly needed funding and resources for public schools in his state. His comments received strong support from other teachers at the meeting.
The criticism occurred at an event that was held for each of the teachers who have been named as the 2018 best teacher in their respective state. As part of the event, the teachers were asked to identify obstacles and other issues that they encountered in their profession in a question and answer session with the Education Secretary after she had made her prepared remarks.
Hazell, a Republican who is a Trump supporter, later said that he found the Secretary’s responses to his questions ‘unsatisfactory’, particularly when she claimed that charter and private schools were an attempt by parents to remove their children from under-performing public schools.
DeVos’ stated education agenda aims to provide choices for parents in school policies (such as charter schools and voucher systems) and she has advocated for this well before she entered the White House as well as organizing financial support for the cause. She has stated that she wants to provide alternatives to the current public school system that currently serves the majority of students.
Charter schools and voucher systems are two of her preferred alternatives to public schools. Charter schools are publicly funded but are run privately and can be organized according any approach favored by their founders; they are not, however, exempt from the standardized testing that is also applied to public school students. Voucher systems enable parents to take the cost of educating their child in a public school (based on a defined amount) and deduct that amount from the cost of educating their child in a private or religious school.
The exchange between Hazell and the Education Secretary was apparently quite testy, according to other teachers that were there, with one describing the exchange as a ‘verbal sparring session’. The points raised by Hazell found broad support among other teachers there and were said to reflect the concerns educators in public schools across the nation.
A point that DeVos made about how public and charter schools should be regarded as part of an overall public school system was particularly irritating to teachers. This is because the two types of schools are subject to different regulations and management. For instance, charter schools are publicly funded but are not subject to the regulations that are applied to public schools.
Another source of contention was DeVos’ opposition to educators fighting for more education funding for public schools. DeVos has a poor relationship with teacher’s unions and her family has a long history of opposition to organized labor.
The Education Secretary took questions from the educators for about thirty minutes and not all teachers had the opportunity to ask her questions. In fact many made the comment afterwards that her answers raised more questions about the future of public school funding under the current administration.