At Washington Policy Center’s (WPC) annual dinner, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos addressed nearly 1,500 business leaders, elected officials and young professionals about the power of student choice in educating America’s youth, which she said helps families find the right school for each child.
Neil Cavuto, Senior Vice President of the Fox News Channel and the Fox Business Network, was also a keynote speaker but he did not permit media to report on his speech.
DeVos compared education choice to deciding what a person wants to eat.
“Like education, we all need food to grow and thrive. But we don’t all want or need the exact same thing at the exact same time,” she said. “We choose how to get the food that best meets our unique needs.”
In order to get the food you need, you can visit a grocery store, or Pike Place, or visit a restaurant, she continued.
“Just as in how you eat, education is not an ‘either or’ decision. Being for equal access and opportunity is not being against anything,” said DeVos. “Sycophants of the system would have you believe school choice means vouchers and charter schools…and for-profit schools. They say it takes money away from public schools.”
But she contends the nay-sayers create a false dichotomy where giving parents a choice means you oppose the public school system.
“Choice is not just another wonky policy debate, or pedagogical theory or a statute written by politicians to be parsed out by lawyers,” she said. “The real meaning of choice is that it is every parent’s right to determine how to engage their children in their own lifelong learning.”
A one-size fits all system is never the right answer, she added, but family-led input at the local and state level will allow for all the choices children need. Families already compare options and make informed decisions about schooling after high school.
“If you decided to go to Seattle University, are you somehow against public universities? No one seems to criticize those choices, no one thinks choice in higher education is wrong, so why is it wrong in elementary school or middle school or high school?”
She advised against listening to defenders of the current system, which has yielded “average” or “middle” results.
“Those aren’t words with which I am comfortable describing America; it’s not the future we should feel comfortable with for anyone,” she added. “We owe it to our children to be fearless, we owe it to them to be deterred by the loud voices who say, ‘Education in America is good enough’ and those who shout to leave the system alone.”
Meanwhile, a mass of protestors gathered outside during the event to voice their frustrations with DeVos and her ideals.
“I’m here supporting public education rather than corporate education,” said Steve Kinholt, a math teacher at Green River Community College.
“I’m really here supporting public education, which I think that this administration through Betsy DeVos does not do. It’s all about public schools versus private schools, and she has no experience whatsoever in public education,” he added.
DeVos has never enrolled in or worked in the public education system, and she has never sent her children through it.
However, she has served as chairman for the Michigan Republican Party and as chairwoman for the board of the Alliance for School Choice. She also is a member of the board of the Foundation for Excellence in Education.
Ami Lara agrees with DeVos’ position on increased options for K-12, and said she was thankful to enroll her daughter into Destiny Charter Middle School (DCMS) in Tacoma.
Lara told Lens her 8th grade daughter was struggling in school and her family was told special education would be the best option moving forward. Soon after, Lara decided to enroll her child in DCMS.
“I think she is a lot more confident now,” she said. “She’s tested out of special education for reading, and is close to testing out for math. She definitely has become her own person and is very strong…it’s been fairly positive.”
Lara said there were limited options for high-quality middle schools in Tacoma, so looking into the charter school was the logical choice. After middle school, Lara said the family would research innovative high schools, as there are more choices.
Lara said she admired DeVos’ policy of student choice, because she remembers when public schools were the only feasible option before charter schools came into effect.
“As a parent, it’s always nice to have options to be able to decide for your child or what would benefit your child. Options are always best as far as I’m concerned.”