May 25, 2022

Teachers of the Year from every state just confronted Betsy DeVos over her destructive agenda

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A group of 50 teachers, each chosen as the best in their home state, had a chance to meet Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos today in Washington, D.C. and during an intense half-hour roundtable peppered her with the serious questions that are troubling them – and unsurprisingly, they came away frustrated, according to a report by HuffPo. 

One of the most confrontational of the questions DeVos was asked came from Jon Hazell, teacher of the year in Oklahoma, where his fellow public school educators were recently involved in a confrontational strike over the state’s refusal to adequately fund their school districts.

Hazell, a Republican who voted for Trump, bluntly told DeVos that the school choice policies she favors are draining resources out of the traditional public schools in his state.

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He cited as a problem the movement of students from traditional public to charter schools, some of them subsidized by voucher programs that provide taxpayer money for students to attend private schools, many of them faith-based.

His question brought nods of support from the other teachers – but not from DeVos.

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DeVos replied students might be going to charters to get away from low-performing public schools.

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“I said, ‘You’re the one creating the ‘bad’ schools by taking all the kids that can afford to get out and leaving the kids who can’t behind,’” Hazell said, explaining he was not talking about her personally but rather about school choice policies in general.

DeVos is all about pushing “school choice.”

A businesswoman who has made millions in her home state of Michigan DeVos never worked in public education or even attended public school but did advocate strongly for charter schools, spending her own money to promote that cause.

“Brian McDaniel, California’s teacher of the year, confirmed Hazell’s version of events,” reports HuffPo.

“He described the two as nearly engaging in a “verbal sparring session” and said DeVos’ staffers looked eager to take Hazell’s mic away, although they never did.”

Hazell also strongly disagreed with DeVos about teacher’s right to strike, which was not a surprise because of her long history of being against teacher’s unions, and her family’s history of opposing organized labor, which comes as no surprise since they made their fortunes off of exploiting workers.

When Josh Meibos, Arizona’s teacher of the year, asked DeVos when striking teachers will be listened to in his state, she said she cannot discuss the situation in Arizona or any other state specifically.

She did say that she hopes “adults would take their disagreements and solve them not at the expense of kids and their opportunity to go to school and learn.”

“For her to say at the ‘expense of children’ was a very profound moment and one I’ll remember forever because that is so far from what is happening,” said Melissa Romano, Montana’s teacher of the year.

“It was disappointing not to hear language about supporting teachers,” Meibos said. “It didn’t go in that direction.”

The teachers in Arizona are striking for their students, because post-recession austerity cuts gutted school funding – and the Republican-controlled legislature has never bothered to make up the difference.

Some teachers were distressed when DeVos said public schools and charters should be thought of as part of the same public school system even though they are managed differently and are subject to different rules.

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“That was a shocker to all the teachers in the room,” Hazell, a science teacher of 35 years, told HuffPost.  

The conversation remained civil but when it was over, the teachers were all unhappy and felt that while DeVos listened, she didn’t bother to actually take their views and concerns into account.

Once again the least qualified, most narrow-minded Education Secretary of the modern era had managed to turn a room full of potential allies into unhappy opponents.

Like so many of Trump’s picks, DeVos wasn’t chosen because she would help, advocate and improve America’s schools, but rather for the opposite reason – to tear the system down and replace it with an educational minefield that only works for the privileged and not for everyone.

Benjamin Locke

Benjamin Locke is a retired college professor with an undergraduate degree in Industrial Labor and Relations from Cornell University and an MBA from the European School of Management.

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