Education secretary Betsy DeVos continued to advocate for robust school choice in front of a room of several hundred journalists attending the Education Writers Association’s annual conference in Baltimore Monday.
In a wide-ranging interview, the Department of Education’s controversial leader defended her push for a federal tax credit that would fund scholarships for students to attend private schools and other educational programs.
She said she is reaching out to Congress members on the other side of the aisle to garner support for “Education Freedom Scholarships.” For too long, DeVos argued, educators have been trying the same approaches with little positive change.
“More choices and more freedom in education will ultimately mean better experiences and more excellence at every school,” she said. “Whether it’s a neighborhood school or one across town that you choose to go to because it has a specific program that you’re interested in.”
She defended her department’s decision to rescind Obama-era guidance to local schools that attempted to reduce suspensions of black and special education children, groups that have been more frequently targeted for discipline.
She said the guidance was not linked to the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, last year and had been criticized as making schools unsafe as it reduced zero-tolerance discipline practices.
“We felt it was an overreach by the previous administration,” she said.
While acknowledging that some teachers need to be better paid, DeVos was critical of the teacher strikes which have happened from West Virginia to California in the past two years.
“Great teachers need to be well paid,” she said, but “I think it’s important that adults have adult disagreements on adult time.”
DeVos took a direct swipe at Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, one of the nation’s largest unions.
“Great teachers perhaps should be making at least half as much of what Randi Weingarten does at half a million dollars a year,” she said.
Weingarten responded with a statement saying, “I’d be delighted if Betsy wants to get all teachers close to $200,000—they deserve that—and so much more.”
She also ribbed reporters, saying that while “many in the media use my name as click-bait,” coverage should not be focused on her.
“Education is not about Betsy DeVos, nor about any other individual,” she said. “It’s about students.”
Asked during the interview with New York Times education reporter Erica L. Green whether she would agree to serve for another four years if Trump is re-elected, DeVos was noncommittal.
“I’m not sure my husband would be OK with that,” she said.