Speaking to parents and teachers at the White House with new U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos on Tuesday, President Donald Trump touted the value of school choice for inner-city African-Americans and called DeVos’ protracted nomination fight unfair.
It was one of the first White House events for DeVos — a Michigan billionaire, school reform advocate and former state Republican Party chairman — since her confirmation a week ago on a tie-breaking vote in the U.S. Senate cast by Vice President Mike Pence.
DeVos, who so far has refused to grant the Detroit Free Press an interview, was roundly criticized by Democrats and other opponents for her support of charter schools and voucher programs — which some say rob traditional schools of funding — and for her lack of experience as a public school teacher or administrator.
In today’s parent-teacher “listening session” in the West Wing, Trump, Pence, DeVos and other administration officials met with a group that included private and public school teachers and parents. Trump opened the meeting saying he wants “every child to have an opportunity to climb the ladder of success,” according to the press pool report from the event.
Trump repeatedly praised DeVos in the meeting while congratulating her for weathering a “very tough trial and a very unfair trial” in her confirmation fight in the Senate. The vote was split largely along party lines, though two Republicans — Sen. Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska — also voted against her, questioning her commitment to traditional public schools.
In his remarks on Tuesday, Trump denounced what he called “failing schools,” particularly in black communities and said he wants every child to have a choice in where they attend schools. But in Detroit, where DeVos has said charters have shown positive results, data cited by the Free Press in the past have shown that neither charters nor public schools have posted particularly strong results.
“Right now, too many of our children don’t have the opportunity to get that education that we all talk about,” said Trump. “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 and properly done.”
DeVos said she was “really excited to be here today with parents and educators, representing traditional public schools, charter public schools, home schools, private schools — a range of choices.”
“We’re eager to listen and learn from you, your ideas for how we can ensure that all of our kids have an equal opportunity for a high quality, great education,” said DeVos, who at her confirmation hearing vowed to support public schools as well as other options for parents and students.