DeVos and Wein­garten, com­bat­ants on ed­u­ca­tion, meet in ru­ral Ohio dis­trict

The Washington Post - - POWERPOST - BY EMMA BROWN

Ed­u­ca­tion Sec­re­tary Betsy DeVos vis­ited an Ohio school dis­trict Thurs­day at the in­vi­ta­tion of one of her chief crit­ics, Randi Wein­garten, pres­i­dent of the Amer­i­can Fed­er­a­tion of Teach­ers, who used the oc­ca­sion to make a case for in­vest­ment in pub­lic schools.

The two com­bat­ants in the na­tion’s ed­u­ca­tion bat­tles met for sev­eral hours, tour­ing class­rooms and hear­ing from teach­ers and stu­dents in Van Wert, a ru­ral com­mu­nity of about 11,000 in north­west­ern Ohio.

Wein­garten said her goal was to show DeVos the good things hap­pen­ing in pub­lic schools. She also wanted the sec­re­tary to see how the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion’s pro­posed bud­get cuts would un­der­mine suc­cess­ful pro­grams in a place where vot­ers over­whelm­ingly sup­ported Pres­i­dent Trump, and where there are few choices be­yond pub­lic schools.

Trump has pro­posed slash­ing the Ed­u­ca­tion Depart­ment’s spend­ing by $9 bil­lion, in­clud­ing funds for af­ter-school pro­grams, teacher train­ing and smaller class sizes.

“Van Wert proves that sup­port for pub­lic schools tran­scends pol­i­tics,” Wein­garten said at a news con­fer­ence where she thanked DeVos for making the trip. “We wanted to cram as much into today as pos­si­ble so that she and I saw what is pos­si­ble . . . in terms of pub­lic ed­u­ca­tion.”

DeVos, a long­time ad­vo­cate for vouch­ers and char­ter schools, has em­pha­sized that she fa­vors pro­vid­ing more choices to fam­i­lies, and has dis­puted claims that she wants to dis­man­tle pub­lic schools. Be­fore Thurs­day, she had vis­ited eight schools while in of­fice, in­clud­ing two char­ter schools, two pri­vate schools, three tra­di­tional pub­lic schools and one school run by the Depart­ment of De­fense.

She called her visit to Van Wert “in­spir­ing” and praised the dis­trict for its ef­forts to meet the needs of all stu­dents.

She also re­it­er­ated her sup­port for ex­tend­ing choice to more fam­i­lies, not­ing that nearly 1 in 5 chil­dren liv­ing in Van Wert at­tend a pub­lic school out­side the dis­trict. “The goal is to have ev­ery child be in an ed­u­ca­tional en­vi­ron­ment that’s best for them,” she said.

DeVos said she wants to help lift bur­den­some man­dates and pa­per­work re­quire­ments that get in the way of teach­ing. Asked by a re­porter for spe­cific ex­am­ples, she didn’t of­fer any and said she was speak­ing broadly.

“We know there is pa­per­work ev­ery­where, in any­thing to do with gov­ern­ment, and some of it is good and nec­es­sary — but there’s a lot of it that might not be so nec­es­sary,” DeVos said.

If Thurs­day’s visit marked a will­ing­ness to en­gage de­spite deep dis­agree­ment, there is un­likely to be much in the way of a last­ing kum­baya.

On Wed­nes­day, Wein­garten pub­lished an op-ed in the Van Wert Times Bulletin that crit­i­cized DeVos for push­ing “failed pri­va­ti­za­tion strate­gies” and for propos­ing a bud­get that would take a “meat cleaver” to pub­lic ed­u­ca­tion.

Dur­ing DeVos’s three-decade ca­reer as an ad­vo­cate for school vouch­ers and char­ter schools, she has been openly crit­i­cal of teach­ers unions, de­scrib­ing them as stand­ing in the way of change, par­tic­u­larly for chil­dren most in need of bet­ter schools.

But shortly af­ter tak­ing of­fice, DeVos spoke to Wein­garten by phone, and the two agreed to meet at least twice — once to tour a tra­di­tional pub­lic school of the union’s choos­ing, and once to visit a “choice school” — a char­ter school, per­haps, or a pri­vate school ac­cept­ing tu­ition vouch­ers — iden­ti­fied by DeVos.

The union chose Van Wert at the urg­ing of Jeff Hood, the pres­i­dent of the school dis­trict’s AFT lo­cal.

He told the Toledo Blade he was proud of Van Wert’s suc­cess in the face of chal­lenges that ac­com­pany ru­ral poverty. Half of the dis­trict’s 2,000 stu­dents come from low-in­come fam­i­lies, but 96 per­cent grad­u­ate from high school on time.

RICHARD PAR­RISH/LIMA NEWS VIA ASSOCIATED PRESS

Ed­u­ca­tion Sec­re­tary Betsy DeVos talks to a mem­ber of the high school Ro­bot­ics Club Thurs­day in a visit to Van Wert, Ohio.

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