Betsy DeVos

Randi Weingarten promises to ‘educate’ Betsy DeVos as AFT kicks off campaign against Trump agenda

PHOTO: Allie Gross
American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten talks to students in a math class for English language learners at Edsel Ford High School in Dearborn, Michigan.

At Edsel Ford High School Tuesday morning, students took turns sharing their goals for the semester. Sixteen-year-old Kamal Mohamad wants to get better grades. His classmate Almjd Alghaithi wants to finish all of his math assignments.

Nodding along was Randi Weingarten, the head of the American Federation of Teachers who spent the morning at the Dearborn, Michigan school to advance a goal of her own: getting the Trump administration to redirect public funding from cracking down on immigration to supporting public schools.

She was there to kick off a campaign called Building Schools, Not Walls, just two days before she will visit schools with U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos. DeVos has faced criticism for her focus on school choice — especially private-school vouchers — and her lack of personal experience with public schools.

“I see the secretary of education as a student,” Weingarten told Chalkbeat. “We’re educators — we have an abiding belief that people are educable, including secretaries of education.”

“That’s why we are making the effort, despite lots of people wondering, given her track record, why we’d even bother.”

Weingarten chose Ohio’s Van Wert City Schools, a small district in northwest Ohio, about an hour and a half away from Toledo, for that joint visit. It’s in “Trump country,” she said. “It’s schools that do project based learning, have grappled with rural poverty, schools that engage in children’s well-being, and that’s why we wanted her to see it.”

PHOTO: Allie Gross
AFT President Randi Weingarten, Rep. Debbie Dingell, and members of Alliance to Reclaim Our Schools at Edsel Ford High School in Dearborn, Michigan.

The tour will coincide with the new, two-week campaign announced at Edsel Ford. The initiative, led by the AFT and the Alliance to Reclaim Our Schools, aims to encourage President Trump and DeVos to rethink their plans for the national budget and education, pushing for more funding for schools, less money for a wall between the U.S. and Mexico, and a focus on providing a high-quality, inclusive education for all students. The group will release a report later this month explaining why those shifts are better for the country.

The focus on openness and diversity has particular resonance in Dearborn, where nearly two-thirds of the district’s public school students are Arab-American.

“This is the model of what public education in America need to achieve,” Michigan Congresswoman Debbie Dingell, who grew up in Dearborn, said during the press conference, nodding toward Edsel Ford Principal Scott Casebolt, who is credited with helping turn the once-struggling district around.

The congresswoman also pointed out the obligation Americans had to make sure all students were not only educated but felt safe.

“When parents, who are Americans, they have lived here two or three generations, they and their children have American passports, and the kids say to me ‘I’m scared, they’re going to knock my door at 2 a.m. and deport our whole family,’” she said. “This is what the kids in this community are living with and scared about every single day.”

you say you want a resolution

Denver school board strikes back at Trump budget, Betsy DeVos’s school choice vision

PHOTO: Department of Education
U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos.

Take that, Donald Trump and Betsy DeVos.

The Denver school board on Thursday approved two resolutions jabbing at President Trump’s first proposed education budget and Education Secretary DeVos’s vision of school reform.

Trump’s budget, the resolution says, would slash funding for a range of programs that help Denver students, including after-school programs, financial aid and Medicaid.

More notable was the DeVos-focused resolution, called “A Resolution in Support of School Choice – Emphasis on Equity and Accountability.”

DeVos started it, essentially, suggested at a Brookings Institution event that the district was not worthy of recognition as a school choice leader because private school vouchers aren’t offered.

The board is trying to draw a stark contrast between DeVos-style reforms and those carried out in Denver Public Schools over the past decade. It reads, in part:

“(T)he Board of Education does not support private school vouchers, which would encourage public education dollars to be spent in private schools that do not serve all students and that are not held to the same standards of transparency and accountability as public schools, but believes instead that public dollars should be used to support and grow public schools, both district-run and charter, that are open to and serve all students.”

Board members were more pointed in their comments during Thursday’s board meeting.

“We are witnessing an assault on public education in this country, both through the budget and the appointment of what I think most of us would agree is the least qualified secretary of education ever appointed to that office,” said board member Mike Johnson.

Board member Happy Haynes said there “have been many who have been trying to associate the work we have done, the careful work that we have done” with the Republican administration.

“We’re not going to quit. We’re not quitters,” Haynes said. “ … It’s the time to double down, and that is what we are doing tonight on this resolution.”

The resolution also amounts to a pre-emptive strike ahead of what should be a contentious school board campaign. Opponents of the incumbent school board members are all but certain to try to link them to DeVos and Trump, not exactly popular figures in heavily Democratic Denver.

van wert alert

Four things to know about Van Wert, the tiny Ohio school district where DeVos and Weingarten will form an uneasy duo

PHOTO: U.S. Department of Education
U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos at Carderock Springs Elementary in Bethesda, Maryland in March.

A small city in rural Ohio will host a high-stakes education summit on Thursday when U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos visits with the chief of a national teachers union who this week vowed to “educate” her.

American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten opposed DeVos after President Donald Trump nominated her for education secretary and called it “a sad day for children” when she was confirmed. But the political enemies still agreed to visit schools together once DeVos took office, and Weingarten chose Van Wert as their first stop.

Van Wert’s schools “do project-based learning, have grappled with rural poverty, schools that engage in children’s well-being, and that’s why we wanted her to see it,” Weingarten told Chalkbeat earlier this week, as her union launched a push to get DeVos to redirect federal funds toward public schools.

Here’s what you need to know about why the pair is headed to Van Wert and what they might see there.

  1. It’s in “Trump country.” That’s what Weingarten told Chalkbeat about why she selected the district for the visit, which marks the first in-person interaction between the two education leaders. Van Wert is just a 20 minute drive from Indiana, home of Vice President Mike Pence, and about an hour from Michigan, DeVos’s own home state. Nearly 80 percent of the 13,000 votes cast in the county in November’s election went to Trump, who did well in rural and post-industrial areas with weak economies and mostly white populations. More than 90 percent of Van Wert county residents are white, according to Census data.
  2. It also has a vibrant teachers union. The school choice foundation DeVos ran before becoming secretary was named American Federation for Children in a not-so-subtle critique of the teachers union Weingarten leads. That might not go over well with the 127 members of the AFT’s local chapter, which is led by Jeff Hood, a Van Wert physical education teacher. He told the Toledo Blade that he had asked Weingarten to bring DeVos to town. He told the newspaper: “I thought, ‘Here we go; Mrs. DeVos is now our secretary of education’ and you know the best way for me to join in the conversation is to see how I can personally invite her to come to Van Wert.”
  3. DeVos won’t be able to talk only about school choice. The education secretary made her career lobbying for choice, particularly to allow students to use public money to pay for private schools. Since becoming secretary, she’s pivoted to the topic frequently, praising leaders from Miami, New York, and Chicago for providing access to a range of school and course options. Her focus on choice won’t work in Van Wert, which unlike many urban districts does not have a range of options for families to choose from. The small city has only one elementary, one middle, and one traditional high school — along with a public alternative school for struggling students and a small Catholic elementary school.
  4. But Van Wert is home to one innovative option. At Vantage Career Center, high school juniors and seniors from the local district and a dozen others can learn industrial mechanics, welding, carpentry, and other skills while earning a diploma from their traditional school. According to a 2014 promotional video, the center is a 190,000-square-foot space that voters have helped fund, even during the recession. Forty percent of students who train at the center go on to college, while the majority head straight to jobs or apprenticeships in the community or the military, according to the center.