In a speech yesterday at the National Press Club, AFT President Randi Weingarten juxtaposed two approaches for education that would have vastly different consequences for America’s students. Either build on the bipartisan consensus of the Every Student Succeeds Act to provide all families with access to great neighborhood public schools, or promote the dangerous, destructive approaches that Donald Trump’s education secretary nominee advocates to undermine and privatize public education.
“It’s our obligation, as a society, to provide all families with access to great neighborhood public schools,” said Weingarten. “The Trump administration can follow the will of the people and walk the path laid out by Congress a year ago. Or they can follow the destructive dogmas of the past and reignite the education wars.”
Weingarten outlined four pillars to achieve powerful, purposeful public education: promoting children’s well-being, supporting powerful learning, building teacher capacity, and fostering cultures of collaboration.
The AFT President also attacked the qualifications, education and experience of Michigan billionaire Betsey DeVos, President-elect Trump’s nominee for Secretary of Education. DeVos and her husband Dick DeVos, a Republican candidate for Michigan’s governor in 2006, donated almost $10 million to Trump’s presidential campaign.
DeVos holds an undergraduate degree is fashion merchandising from Calvin College in Michigan. The Washington Post obtained the disclosures filed by DeVos and they show a work history that is devoid of education experience or much work experience at all. Between 1982 and 1984, DeVos’s work record states she was a self-employed business owner, a Color One Consultant. In 1989, her next work entry, Betsy DeVos lists herself as the Chairman of Windquest Group, Inc., a group founded by her husband. Bloomberg’s Company Overview (http://www.bloomberg.com/research/stocks/private/snapshot.asp?privcapId=140826925) lists Richard Martin DeVos as the Chairman of the Windquest Group, Inc. On her federal disclosure form Betsy DeVos also lists herself as a Director of RDV Sports, Inc., and the RDV Corporation, a Michigan corporation set up by Richard DeVos to purchase the NBA franchise, the Orlando Magic.
She lists herself as Director of The Stow Company, a subsidiary of Windquest Group. However, Richard DeVos and not Betsy DeVos is listed as the Director of both the Windquest Group and The Stow Company.
Betsy DeVos and the Attack on Public Education
Weingarten said Betsy DeVos is “the most anti-public education nominee for secretary of education in the history of the department” and lacks the necessary qualifications and experience to be the nation’s top education official. DeVos “hasn’t taught in a public school,” Weingarten said. “She hasn’t served on a school board. She never attended public school—nor did she send her kids to one. She’s a lobbyist—not an educator.”
DeVos worked in Michigan “to undermine public schools and to divide communities,” Weingarten said. “And now she’s poised to swing her Michigan wrecking ball all across America.”
Weingarten detailed some of the destructive education policies DeVos has lobbied for and poured millions of dollars into: a school voucher initiative that voters rejected by more than a 2-to-1 margin; the vast expansion of for-profit charter schools; negligible oversight for charter schools; and allowing failed charter operators to open more schools.
“What is the result of all this? Student performance has declined across Michigan,” Weingarten said. “Nearly half of all its charter schools ranked among the bottom of American schools.”
A Challenge and an Invitation
Weingarten laid out a challenge to DeVos, if she is confirmed. “I extend both a challenge and an invitation to Ms. Devos: Spend some time in public schools.” Weingarten said. “There is no substitute for seeing firsthand what works so well in our public schools, or for seeing the indefensible conditions too many students, teachers, and school staff endure.”
“Come to rural McDowell County, W.Va., the eighth-poorest county in the country, where many voted for Donald Trump. A county where the AFT is leading a public-private partnership to improve the public schools and health outcomes. Join me at Harvest [Collegiate High School] or CHAH, or Toledo Technology Academy or in Meriden [Conn.], Corpus Christi [Texas], California’s ABC district or Miami. Spend a day or two in a class for severely disabled students. Before you try to do what you did in Michigan to the rest of the country, see firsthand the potential and promise of public education.”
The AFT is Prepared to Take a Stand
Weingarten said that if the Trump administration chooses to reignite the education wars, “communities across this country will stand up and defend their public schools and our children—like hundreds of thousands have done so far in open letters and petitions, and like AROS will on Jan. 19. Whatever this new administration does, we will be walking the walk for great neighborhood schools by investing and supporting the four pillars I’ve described today.”
Weingarten concluded with a call to action, “So I ask you to join with us as we stand up for the well-being of all children. For powerful learning. For capacity building for teachers. For community collaboration. Please join with us as we stand up for the promise of public education, and for the public schools all children deserve.”