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.”

promoting choice

Betsy DeVos defends vouchers and slams AFT in her speech to conservatives

U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos rallied a conservative crowd in Denver on Thursday, criticizing teachers unions and local protesters and defending private-school vouchers as a way to help disadvantaged students.

“Our opponents, the defenders of the status quo, only protest those capable of implementing real change,” DeVos told members of the American Legislative Exchange Council, an influential conservative group that helps shape legislative policy across the country. “You represent real change.”

DeVos delivered the keynote speech at the ALEC meeting, where she reiterated her support for local control of schools and school choice. Citing the conservative former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, she said education should be about individual students and families, not school systems.

“Lady Thatcher regretted that too many seem to blame all their problems on society. But, ‘who is society?’” DeVos asked, quoting Thatcher. “‘There is no such thing!’”

The American Federation of Teachers, she said, has exactly the opposite idea.

“Parents have seen that defenders of the status quo don’t have their kids’ interests at heart,” she said.

AFT President Randi Weingarten threw punches of her own Thursday, calling private school vouchers “only slightly more polite cousins of segregation” in a Washington, D.C. speech.

DeVos highlighted states that have introduced vouchers or new school-choice programs including North Carolina, Kentucky and Arizona. Indiana — home to the nation’s largest voucher program — also won praise.

Data from existing voucher programs may have sparked the one critical question DeVos faced, during a brief sit-down after her speech. Legislators want to know how to respond to complaints that voucher programs only help wealthy families, the moderator, an Arizona lawmaker, told DeVos.

In Indiana, for instance, vouchers are increasingly popular in wealthy school districts and among families whose students had not previously attended public school.

“I just dismiss that as a patently false argument,” DeVos said. “Wealthy people already have choice. They’re making choices every day, every year, by moving somewhere where they determine the schools are right for their children or by paying tuition if they haven’t moved somewhere.”

Earlier this year, DeVos criticized Denver as not offering enough school choice because Colorado does not have private school vouchers. Still, presenters at the conference Thursday introduced Denver to ALEC members — conservative legislators, business leaders and lobbyists — as “living proof” that charter schools and competition work.

A local Denver school board candidate, Tay Anderson, and state union leaders held a protest Wednesday ahead of DeVos’s speech. Attendees said they were concerned that ALEC’s efforts, and DeVos’s focus on vouchers and school choice, would hurt public schools.

DeVos didn’t make mention of Denver or Colorado in her speech Thursday, but she briefly referenced the protest.

“I consider the excitement a badge of honor, and so should you,” she said.

I saw the sign(s)

Demonstrators display frustration with DeVos at Denver protest

Protestors march from the Capitol to the Hyatt Regency Denver, where ALEC is holding their annual meeting. (Photos by Marissa Page/Chalkbeat)

“DeVos is DeWorst”

“Left or Right, We Can All See Wrong”

“School Librarians Say Shhhh! to Betsy!”

Those are some of the hundreds of colorful signs demonstrators carried at the Capitol Wednesday to protest U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos’ scheduled Denver visit.

The Trump appointee is expected to speak Thursday at a luncheon during the American Legislative Exchange Council’s annual meeting at the Hyatt Regency downtown. Wednesday’s protest was organized by Denver school board candidate Tay Anderson with help from the Colorado Education Association, the state’s largest teachers union.

Featured speakers included local activists, teachers and legislators. Demonstrators then marched from the Capitol to the Hyatt.

Here are some selected images from the demonstration.

During the school year, Andy Fine is an elementary school teacher in Loveland’s Thompson School District. This summer he’s interning with the CEA, and rallied more than 25 Thompson teachers and parents to drive to Denver for Wednesday’s action. “Someone’s gotta stand up for our kids,” he said. “My life and passion is standing up for kids.”

Jessica Price, a teacher at Overland High School in Aurora, brought her 6-year-old daughter Maycie Turner to the protest. “I’m here because what we’re doing is working,” she said. “People are getting the message.”

Mike Badar’s father taught in Flint, Michigan for 30 years. He said his biggest concern is DeVos will blur the line separating church and state. “She does not like history, and she wants to rewrite it based on her religious principles,” he said.

Denver Public Schools teacher Michael Durga waited calmly outside the Capitol for the protest to start Wednesday morning. Donning a T-shirt that read “Proud public school teacher,” Durga carried a colorful flag urging support for public schools and a sign themed after the reality show RuPaul’s Drag Race. “DeVos is a nightmare,” he exclaimed. “I want her to know that I am opposed to everything she stands for.”

Pam Wilson, a self-professed “concerned citizen,” marched from the Capitol to the Hyatt Regency spritzing fellow marchers and passerby with a spray bottle filled with water. She decorated the bottle with a crossed-out image of DeVos’s face. “It’s bear spray,” she laughed.

The man behind the Neil Gorsuch mask is Ian Kolsky, a DPS teacher. Kolsky and four others dressed as Republican-appointed Supreme Court justices. The demonstrators belong to a group called Move to Amend, which calls for a constitutional amendment limiting the rights of corporations.