Education leader will draw some cheers, some jeers

A top-shelf member of Republican President Donald Trump’s administration is coming to Washington to share her convictions, champion her boss’ accomplishments and inflame hearts of their political foes.

It was going to happen eventually.

A top-shelf member of Republican President Donald Trump’s administration is coming to Washington to share her convictions, champion her boss’ accomplishments and inflame hearts of their political foes.

Betsy DeVos, the 11th secretary of the Department of Education, will be the one.

She is making the trek west next month to attend a $350-a-person fundraising dinner for the Washington Policy Center, a talent-laden purveyor of sturdy pro-business analysis. The event is set for Oct. 13 at the Hyatt Regency in Bellevue.

However, not everyone will be buying a ticket to greet her.

It is likely DeVos will encounter a welcoming committee comprised of teachers, parents, students, Democratic politicians and other assorted defenders of public schools that will not be cheering her arrival but jeering her efforts to redesign the federal approach to education.

Before enlisting as a federal public servant DeVos, a billionaire philanthropist, invested her time and vast wealth into pushing the case for school choice and promoting charter schools, vouchers and other alternatives to traditional public schools.

In the course of her nomination, opponents – including Democratic Sen. Patty Murray of Washington – questioned her qualification to be the education leader of the free world. They said she exhibited little knowledge of how the nation’s public schools operate and seemed committed to an agenda of reform aimed at undermining the system itself.

Murray took to the Senate floor before the confirmation vote to rail against DeVos, saying she is driven by an “extreme right wing ideology” and would bring an “anti-government, free-market-above-all philosophy” to the American education system.

Her appointment stirred a rousing fight in the U.S. Senate and when it came time to vote, senators split 50-50 on whether to give her the job. That meant Vice President Mike Pence had to come in to break the tie and confirm her.

Following the vote, Murray took to the floor again to encourage DeVos to modify her attitudes toward public education and moderate her zeal for school choice.

“Betsy DeVos will be our next Secretary of Education, but it is clear that people across the country and Democrats and Republicans here in the Senate believe that we should work together to strengthen public education, not privatize or defund it,” Murray said. “So I am hopeful that she enters her new role taking this to heart, and ready to adjust her views.”

There’s little sign that’s happened.

Rather, DeVos continues to argue the value of giving parents more options for how their children are educated. Her speeches routinely include pitches for improving elementary and secondary education by expanding publicly-funded but privately-run charter schools — the first of which opened in Washington in 2014 — and giving more families access to a voucher of public funds to pay for private schooling.

If she hits on those themes next month, she will be a hit with most, if not all, of those inside the Hyatt Regency ballroom.

It had to happen eventually.

Political reporter Jerry Cornfield’s blog, The Petri Dish, is at www.heraldnet.com. Contact him at 360-352-8623; jcornfield@ heraldnet.com. Twitter: @dospueblos

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