President Trump and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos met with a carefully selected group of 10 teachers and parents at the White House on Tuesday, a list of participants that reveals a good deal about the administration’s education priorities.
DeVos is the controversial new education secretary who was confirmed by the Senate only when Mike Pence became the first vice president in history to break a tie for a Cabinet member. Also present at the White House education meeting were Pence, presidential counselor Kellyanne Conway and senior adviser Stephen Miller.
Before the meeting, Trump praised DeVos and said she had been through a “very unfair trial” before her confirmation. As it began, he said:
“We want every child in America to have the opportunity to climb the ladders of success. We want every child, also, to have a safe community and we’re going to do that. … It all begins with education, and that’s why we’re here this morning. … Right now, too many of our children don’t have the opportunity to get that education that we all talk about. Millions of poor disadvantaged students are trapped in failing schools. … That’s why I want every single disadvantaged child in America, no matter what their background or where they live, to have a choice about where they go to school. It’s worked out so well in some communities where it’s been properly run. … ”
The 10 invited teachers and parents were, according to the White House:
* Carol Bonilla, a Spanish teacher at a private school
* Bartholomew Cirenza, a parent of seven students in a public school
* Kenneth Michael Smith, a parent and president of a dropout-prevention program
* Aimee Viana, a parent of two students at a private school and a former principal
* Kathyrn Mary Doherty, a parent of a student at a private Catholic school
* Laura Lynn Parrish, a parent of a home-schooled student
* Julie R. Baumann, a fifth-grade teacher at a public school
* Jane Quenneville, a principal of a public school specializing in special education
* Jennifer Jane Coleman, a parent and a teacher of four home-school students
* Mary Caroline Riner, a parent of a student at a charter school
Keep in mind that more than 80 percent of America’s schoolchildren attend traditional public schools. According to the National Center for Education Statistics:
* About 10 percent of schoolchildren in the United States go to private schools, according to 2013-14 data, the latest available, with 38 percent of these enrolled in Catholic schools.
* About 5 percent attend charter schools, according to 2013-14 data, the latest available. Charter schools are publicly funded but operate outside traditional public districts, and many are run by for-profit companies.
* About 3 percent are home-schooled, according to 2012 data, the latest available.
At the meeting were two invitees from traditional public schools, and one from a public school that specializes in special education. That’s three out of 10. Three were from private schools. Two were home-schoolers. One was from a charter school. One was from a dropout-prevention program.
What does this tell us about the education priorities of Trump and DeVos? Exactly what supporters of public education had expected: that the Trump administration would focus on promoting alternatives to traditional public education rather than working on helping improve the schools that most students attend.
DeVos has pledged to work to help students in all schools, but the opposition to her centered on her long-standing involvement at the forefront of the movement to use public dollars to allow families to pay for tuition at private schools and religious schools. She has directed millions of dollars from her family fortune to support candidates and programs that spread school choice — at the expense, critics say, of traditional public schools. Opponents say she wants to privatize public education, though DeVos, who has called public education “a dead end,” says she doesn’t.
Trump has proposed spending $20 billion to give to states to help expand charter schools and voucher programs, which use public money for private school tuition. During the campaign, he said he wanted to severely cut back or eliminate the Department of Education, but he hasn’t said this since becoming president.
Here’s a letter that Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, issued after the meeting: