COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — U.S. Department of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos paid a visit to James Irwin Charter Schools in Colorado Springs Wednesday.
“Right now, education freedom is available to some in this country,” DeVos said. “It’s time that it be available to all.”
Devos spoke at a private luncheon to commemorate the 20th anniversary of Parents Challenge, an organization that helps connect parents, particularly low-income families, with information regarding school choice.
Even before her time as secretary, DeVos was and still is a vocal advocate of school choice.
“Whether [parents] decide to put those resources towards public school, private school, or somewhere else, the choice belongs to them,” DeVos said.
DeVos’ visit was met with hundreds of protestors, many of them educators in the public school system in Colorado Springs.
“Betsy Devos has demonstrated that she’s not a friend to public education,” said Kevin Vick, a social studies teacher and Vice President of the Colorado Education Association.
Protestors like Vick said they aren’t outright opposed to school choice, as many students travel from to public schools in different districts. It’s voucher programs that concern them.
“Our proposal is not about pitting one kind of school against another,” DeVos said. “It’s about empowering parents and families to make choices that were previously available to only the wealthy, the powerful, and the well-connected.”
However, in order for families to afford those programs, they may need to use school vouchers that are redeemable for tuition at non-public schools, like private schools or charters. Protestors out Wednesday fear it would come at the cost of public school funding.
“The fact that she’s tried to de-fund and cut the Special Olympics, the fact that she’s tried to cut after-school programs,” said Grant Landgon, a career supervisor in District 11.
They worry about public schools, because they don’t think DeVos knows much about them. She didn’t go to public schools herself, neither did her children, and many of her events and press opportunities are held at charter schools.
“It’s no surprise she picked James Irwin,” Langdon said. “Again, another charter school. Nothing against that school, but why doesn’t she spend that much time and energy on public education and supporting public education?”
The founders of Parents Challenge point to the success of families when compared to the low-income students they would otherwise be in the same school as. They say their proficiency rates are more than 88%, compared to the 47% of low-income students in public schools.
“My question is this: Will you volunteer to send your kids to the same schools that you want to prevent Parents Challenge families from escaping?” said Steve Schuck, the co-founder of Parents Challenge.