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Betsy DeVos, Randi Weingarten Set to Visit Ohio District

By Alyson Klein — April 19, 2017 3 min read
Education Secretary-designate Betsy DeVos testifies on Capital Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Jan. 17, 2017, at her confirmation hearing before the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee.
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Get ready for some potentially awkward photo-ops: U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos and Randi Weingarten, the president of the American Federation of Teachers, will be making their very first appearance together, in the Van Wert, Ohio, school district Thursday.

The visit has been a few months in the making. Shortly after taking office, DeVos agreed to visit a traditional public school with Weingarten. And in return, Weingarten, who vehemently opposed DeVos’ confirmation, said she would tour a “school of choice” with DeVos. (That visit hasn’t been scheduled yet.) Lily Eskelsen García, the president of the National Education Association, told Politico that she didn’t want to have a relationship with DeVos at all. More on how the two unions are handling DeVos here.

It remains to be seen whether the joint Weingarten-DeVos appearance will turn out to be a love feast. Weingarten wrote an op-ed, published today in a local paper, that sharply criticized DeVos’ work in expanding charter schools in Michigan.

“Parents and teachers sounded the alarm when DeVos was nominated, because of her efforts over the past two decades to undermine public schools,” Weingarten wrote. “As a lobbyist in Michigan, she used her wealth to push legislators to defund public education in favor of for-profit charter schools that had no accountability to parents or the public. She has called public education a ‘dead end,’ and as secretary she continues to push the same failed privatization strategies she pushed in Michigan.” (More context on DeVos’ record in Michigan, which her supporters’ view differently, here.)

And the teachers’ union president said that the Trump administration’s proposed fiscal 2018 budget would take a “meat cleaver” to the U.S. Department of Education’s budget, slashing after-school and teacher-training programs while investing in “privatization.”

The Trump administration is seeking to cut $9 billion from the department’s budget, while increasing funding for charters and private school choice. Cuts like that would make it harder for teachers in Van Wert to continue to improve outcomes for students, Weingarten argued.

AFT President Randi Weingarten urges delegates in Detroit to propose solutions that unite "those we represent and those we serve."

Weingarten sees the rural district as a model for the rest of the country. Van Wert has gone big on prekindergarten, and has a significant “community school” component. It’s adopted a project-based learning curriculum, and trained teachers on how to use it.

“The blueprint here is obvious, and it transcends party: What happens in Van Wert shouldn’t just stay in Van Wert,” Weingarten wrote. “It should be expanded throughout the nation. But that takes resources and moves education in a totally different direction than the one envisioned by the federal education secretary and the proposed federal budget.”

Van Wert’s district report card paints a mixed picture when it comes to student achievement and other academic outcomes. The district gets an F on the state’s A through F grading system when it comes to whether students are passing state tests, as well as on both K-3 literacy and closing achievement gaps. But Van Wert gets an A for the “progress component” of the report card, which measures growth in student achievement, and for graduation rates. The vast majority of the district’s students are white, and about half come from low-income families.

While in Van Wert, DeVos and Weingarten will tour schools and meet with parents, teachers, and union leaders. And they’re scheduled to be together for about four hours, from 11 a.m. to 3 in the afternoon.

Career and Tech Trip

The trip to Van Wert isn’t the only travel on DeVos’ schedule this week. She joined President Donald Trump at the Snap-on tools factory in Kenosha, Wis., on Tuesday in one of a handful of three once-blue states that flipped to support Trump’s presidential bid. Trump highlighted career and technical education and signed an executive order calling on cabinet agencies to use American-made goods in procurement.

DeVos applauded the move. “To strengthen our economy, we need a skilled and educated workforce. That’s why this administration is committed to supporting and highlighting career and technical education,” she said in a statement.

The factory, like career and technical education, has bipartisan appeal. Weingarten also visited it previously, along with Democratic Sen. Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin.

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