BALTIMORE — While the media may focus on U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, she told the nation’s education reporters Monday that the focus should be on students and families.
“As much as many in the media use my name as clickbait or try to make it all about me, it’s not,” she said. “Education is not about Betsy DeVos nor any other individual.”
Defining herself as a conservative with a distrust of government, DeVos used her appearance at the Education Writer’s Association annual conference to promote her Education Freedom Scholarships and to continue her call for a redefinition of public schooling.
“It should surprise no one that I am a common-sense conservative with a healthy distrust of centralized government,” she said. “Instead, I trust the American people to live their own lives and to decide their own destinies. That’s a freedom philosophy.”
For DeVos, a wealthy former Michigan Republican Party chairwoman whose Cabinet term has been marked with controversy, that means giving students and families the choice to move between schools. She says this will force traditional public schools to innovate and get better.
It’s a familiar mantra for DeVos, who pushed the establishment of charter schools in Michigan and helped to push an unsuccessful school vouchers ballot question in Michigan.
She has proposed an Education Freedom Scholarship, which would use private scholarships to allow students who couldn’t normally afford it to go to private schools.
It ties in with DeVos’ broader philosophy.
“Let’s stop and rethink the definition of public education,” she said. “Today, it’s often defined as one type of school, funded by taxpayers, controlled by government. But if every student is part of ‘the public,’ then every way and every place a student learns is ultimately of benefit to ‘the public.’ That should be the new definition of public education.”
DeVos furthered her push for school choice under questioning from New York Times reporter Erica Greene.
“More choices and more freedom in education will ultimately mean” better schools overall, even a neighborhood traditional public schools,” DeVos said. “Having the ability to direct where resources go on the child or family level helps families become wise consumers.”
During the question-and-answer period with the reporters, a Michigan-based reporter asked DeVos about Detroit schools and the charter schools in the city, which have a generally poor record, as does the Detroit traditional school system and why DeVos hadn’t visited the city to talk to families about the schools.
DeVos was instrumental in pushing Michigan’s charter school law, including through political action groups and donations to Michigan legislators.
DeVos said she had been to Detroit schools before she was education secretary. She also said she doesn’t think Michigan has true education “freedom.” She added she hoped that would change.
DeVos was also asked about private, for-profit companies that run charter schools and make profits off doing so, sometimes by skirting laws.
DeVos said all public schools — charter and traditional — must follow laws, but said the bigger thing to focus on is why there are waiting lists in many places for charter schools and why more of those schools aren’t available.
In other news, DeVos said:
- She hasn’t met recently with any sexual assault survivors. Her department has proposed a major overhaul of how colleges and universities handle sexual assault complaints, with many sexual assault survivors complaining she is protecting those who are accused of sexual assault.
- She said the recent scandal of parents paying bribes to get their children into elite universities showcases the belief among many that the college system is unfair to most average people.
- When asked if she would serve another four years in her role if Donald Trump was re-elected and wanted her to stay, DeVos didn’t directly answer, instead quipping that her husband probably wouldn’t like her too.
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