DeVos speaks on school choice, teacher strikes and more

BALTIMORE — U.S. Department of Education secretary Betsy DeVos was noncommittal Monday, when asked by a New York Times reporter whether she would stick around for another term if President Trump wins the 2020 election.

“I’m not sure my husband would be OK with that,” she said.

DeVos, a champion of school choice, spoke to hundreds of reporters during an annual Education Writers Association conference held in Baltimore. In the past, DeVos has declined to speak at the conference.

On Monday, she answered a series of questions from New York Times reporter Erica Green, spanning everything from school choice to DeVos’ stance on Obama-era policies.

Here’s what she had to say:

On choice: 

DeVos lauded Florida and The Netherlands for offering what she sees as a diversity of school choice. The Netherlands has something like 59 kinds of schools, she told the EWA crowd.

“Wouldn’t it be great if we could say 59 is just a number in the rearview mirror and that we have over 100 or more different kinds of schools to offer here, in the United States?” she said.

The topic came up as DeVos was discussing her Education Freedom Scholarships, part of her ongoing plan to increase school choice. The scholarships would help students attend private schools or access other educational opportunities. While she didn’t go into details about what kinds of new schools she’d like to see, DeVos mentioned career and technical education as one popular avenue for helping students succeed.

“We want people to think very broadly about what introducing more choices to students could mean,” she said. “And for states to think very creatively about what kinds of opportunities they could make available.”

On teacher strikes: 

DeVos told the crowd that good teachers should be well-paid.

Maybe, she pushed, they should make at least half as much as Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers – one of the largest unions in the country.  

(The quip prompted laughter from the crowd, and also tweets from Weingarten.)

Clearly, DeVos is not in favor of strikes.

“I think it would be, I think it’s important that adults have adult disagreements on adult time and that they ultimately not hurt kids in the process,” she said. “I think too often they’re doing so by walking out of classrooms.”

Overreach, overreach, overreach:

It was a common refrain for DeVos, when questioned by Green about why she rescinded Obama-era guidelines around civil rights in school discipline and affirmative action last year. 

DeVos told Green that she thinks every student should be treated fairly and their civil rights protected, but that the “protections on paper” were a step too far by the Obama administration.

“I am not going to overstep and make law, where there isn’t law,” she said.

EdNews editor Jennifer Swindell and reporter Sami Edge are attending EWA’s 2019 conference in Baltimore this week. EdNews was a finalist for a national award for visual storytelling. 

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