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Teaching Profession

Teachers’ Unions Are Reaching Out to Betsy DeVos—With Mixed Results

By Andrew Ujifusa — February 17, 2017 2 min read
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The American Federation of Teachers and the National Education Association were two of Betsy DeVos’ most outspoken and vigorous opponents during the confirmation process for the new education secretary. So how are they approaching DeVos now that she’s leading the U.S. Department of Education? The two unions have at least one common strategy: using open letters.

On Thursday, the online news site Axios reported that DeVos will be going on a school visit with AFT President Randi Weingarten, who last month said DeVos was an ideologue intent on undermining public education. “I said I’d like to visit a public school with her, and then I’d like her to visit a choice school with me,” DeVos said of Weingarten. The union president, in turn, said that such a visit needed to be real and “not a photo op.”

That announcement followed a Feb. 14 open letter in which Weingarten asked DeVos to visit a public school with her.

“You are now the secretary of education for all of the students in the United States. Public school teachers and parents all over America are waiting for you to walk their walk,” Weingarten wrote to DeVos.

We still don’t know which school DeVos and Weingarten will visit, or when their joint visit would take place. An AFT spokesman, Marcus Mrowka, said those details are still being worked out.

Then there’s the NEA.

In an open letter sent the same day as Weingarten’s, Feb. 14, NEA President Lily Eskelsen García said that DeVos (after she was confirmed) called her saying that they should talk. CLARIFICATION: We should note that although the NEA did publicize the letter to its members on Friday, García’s letter to DeVos initially was private. In the same letter, García responded by asking DeVos a series of questions, including whether the new secretary intended to “privatize” federal Title I and special education funding, among other questions. As of late Friday, the union said DeVos has not responded to that letter.

“I’m still struck by the lack of clear answers she gave the public at her Senate hearing,” García said in a statement. “I sent her a letter, asking for the answers that we didn’t get from her confirmation hearing.”

It’s important to point out that García told Politico over a week ago that the union would have “no relationship” with DeVos. It’s also notable that the NEA president responded to DeVos’ phone call in a different, and public, format.

Read Garcia’s Valentine’s Day letter to DeVos.

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