Education Secretary Betsy DeVos was planning to take an education “study visit” to Ontario, but it was postponed indefinitely after teachers and some union leaders blasted the trip, with one tweeting, “She should keep her backwards ideas out of Ontario.”
The Education Department said the trip, planned for Oct. 5 and 6, was being postponed because of “last-minute scheduling issues that arose on both sides.” DeVos’s current public schedule shows that she has no public events for the two days.
No details of the Ontario trip were ever provided, and it was going to be closed to the media. But a spokesman for the U.S. Embassy in Canada issued a statement before the postponement saying that she planned to “engage with Ministry of Education officials from Ontario and other provinces, visit local schools and learn about U.S. Consulate support for U.S.-Canada higher education linkages,” according to the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.
Ontario has a publicly funded school system with nearly 2 million students that includes secular school districts as well as Catholic school districts. The province has been funding Catholic schools since 1867, when a tax-funded Catholic school system was embedded in the Ontario Constitution, but there have been repeated calls for that to change. It does not fund other religious schools. The province does offer tax deductions for religious education. The U.N. Human Rights Commission has long called on Ontario to end what it calls “discrimination on the basis of religion in the funding of schools.”
DeVos, a Michigan billionaire, has been highly controversial for her support for publicly funded private and religious education, and she has been met with protests at almost every official visit. She has been critical of traditional public education, once calling it a “dead end,” and her critics say she supports the privatization of public education, although she denies it. DeVos says her priority is to present parents with as many education choices as possible.
The planned visit by DeVos to Ontario instantly drew criticism from within the education community there. Some teachers and union leaders said they did not welcome the secretary because of her school choice advocacy. Chris Cowley, a teacher and the newly elected president of the Ontario Teachers’ Federation, was direct in his opposition:
Sam Hammond, president of the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario:
There were other tweets as well, including this from a teacher:
The Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation issued a statement when the visit was made public, saying that it was “very concerned”:
Ms. DeVos is a vocal proponent of programs that divert government funding away from public education and into private hands, to pay for tuition at private and religious schools.
“It would, of course, be more disturbing if our Minister of Education were visiting Washington to study Ms. DeVos’s agenda,” said OSSTF/FEESO President Harvey Bischof. “But it’s still alarming, and frankly an affront to our members, that Ontario would allow someone who openly promotes a corporate assault on public education to visit schools in our province.”
“The Ministry of Education should reconsider this visit and send a strong, clear message to Ms. DeVos and other proponents of privatization that public education in Ontario is not for sale,” concluded Bischof.
The CBC quoted Ontario Education Minister Mitzie Hunter as saying that the province is “very proud of our education system in Ontario and we welcome international delegations who come here to learn from us and to really meet our great teachers and educators in our system.”
After the trip was canceled, Cowley tweeted: