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New Trump Adviser Has Advocated for Charters, Changes to Teacher-Labor Rules

By Andrew Ujifusa — January 26, 2017 3 min read
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The state director of the Maryland Campaign for Achievement Now, an organization that advocates for charter schools and the use of student achievement in teacher and school accountability, has joined the Trump administration as an adviser on education issues.

Jason Botel will serve as a senior education adviser for the White House, according to Politico, which was the first to report the news. He joins a Trump White House education team that includes Rob Goad, a former staffer to Rep. Luke Messer, R-Ind., and now the education point person on the White House Domestic Policy Council. Botel is also a former executive director of KIPP Baltimore and worked at Teach for America, according to his LinkedIn bio.

Vallay Varro, 50CAN’s president, expressed her congratulations on social media Wednesday:

And 50CAN’s founder, Marc Porter Magee, told the Baltimore Sun Wednesday that “I can’t think of anyone I trust more” to help make key decisions about education than Botel. Varro and Magee didn’t immediatley respond to our requests for comment.

UPDATE: Varro told us in an interview Thursday that one of Botel’s signature accomplishments during his time leading MarylandCAN was to help develop a principal mentoring program in Baltimore schools. She also said that he would be a good complement to Betsy DeVos, Trump’s nominee for education secretary, if she is confirmed, and would fight for parents’ educational options.

“I’m not surprised actually that he would put himself in this position of continuing his public service, and working on behalf of making sure that we do have smart polices in place at the federal level,” Varro said. “I think he’s a great person to be doing this work.”

We wrote about Botel in 2011, when he was involved with KIPP Baltimore’s negotiations with the Baltimore Teachers Union over teacher pay and an extended school day at KIPP.

Not everyone who comes from a policy and advocacy background with some similarites to Botel’s has expressed warm feelings about Trump. Democrats for Education Reform, for example, which also supports choice in the form of charter schools and teacher evaluations that include test scores, has warned fellow Democrats against working for Trump. DFER is also not supporting Trump’s nominee for education secretary, Betsy DeVos.

DFER and Stand for Children, which also shares some objectives with CAN, both declined comment on Botel’s move to the Trump administration. In mid-November the leader of Stand for Children’s Indiana affiliate asked newly elected Vice President Mike Pence (Indiana’s former governor) to address “racial and gender-based bullying” in schools, such as “Build that wall” chants in schools, a reference to one of Trump’s signature policy aims to construct a new wall on the U.S. border with Mexico.

Teach for America also did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

On his Twitter feed, Botel has spoken out consistently against “white supremacy.” Two years ago, Botel appeared to express dismay at the 2014 election results, in which Republicans took control of the U.S. Senate and dominated state races as well:

However, Botel also praised former Secretary of Education Arne Duncan for “pissing off the right and the left equally.” He’s also spoken up for Howard Fuller, a Marquette University education professor and civil rights advocate who supports private school vouchers. Fuller, in turn, has backed DeVos’ nomination for education secretary. DeVos herself is prominent for backing vouchers and other forms of choice during her time as chair of the American Federation for Children.

Last year, 50CAN merged with StudentsFirst, the state-based advocacy group founded by former District of Columbia schools chancellor Michelle Rhee. Rhee has identified herself as a Democrat, but met with Trump in November after he won the election to discuss education policy, amid rumors that she was being considered for the position of education secretary.


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