Minnesota education advocates voiced strong frustrations about President Donald Trump’s nominee for U.S. secretary of education in a meeting with U.S. Sen. Al Franken on Friday in Minneapolis.
The educators criticized Betsy DeVos for avoiding stands on education policy issues during her confirmation hearing in Washington, D.C., last week. During that hearing, the Democratic senator questioned DeVos about whether students should be measured by proficiency and growth, concepts she appeared not to fully grasp.
DeVos, a Michigan billionaire, is woefully ignorant about education policy, Franken said.
“This is someone who I know a number of Republican colleagues think is displaying an inadequate … knowledge about school policy,” he said. “[We don’t know if she] is going to support our public schools or go after them.”
DeVos has been criticized for lacking a background in education, as well as for her support for “school choice,” a concept that favors charter schools and voucher programs that use public money to finance privately run schools.
But state Sen. Roger Chamberlain, R-Lino Lakes, said he agrees with her opposition to widely used Common Core academic standards and her support of school choice.
“It aligns well with what I think is good,” he said.
DeVos has served on nonprofits that support school choice and has donated money to organizations that advocate it, the educators pointed out.
“Why aren’t they putting more choice in our public schools?” Greta Callahan, secretary of the Minneapolis Federation of Teachers, asked at the meeting. “Why aren’t we fighting for that?”
Franken asked the advocates to provide him with questions for DeVos. Abeer Syedah, University of Minnesota student body president, wanted to know more about DeVos’ stances on Title IX and about how schools should handle sexual assault cases.
Katy Smith, an early childhood and family educator from Winona, said DeVos did not truly address early childhood education during her hearing.
“She has to understand that school begins at birth and goes all the way through,” she said.
Franken said he agrees. “If we want to do anything about achievement gaps, the best thing we can do is invest in early childhood education,” he said.
Mary Kirchhoff, a former special education teacher in the Edina district, said she’s concerned about how DeVos will handle funding for special education when schools are struggling for special education resources.
“I’m worried about her taking money from public schools and putting it into religious schools without any accountability,” Kirchhoff said. “Her résumé doesn’t fit the job.”