Teacher's Union Says 'Elitist' Betsy DeVos Is Making Teaching 'Impossible': 'Strikes Are Never a First Resort'

One of America's largest teacher's unions has hit out at Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, accusing her of hypocrisy and failing to listen to the needs of both teachers and students.

The reaction came after DeVos criticized educators for taking industrial action and suggested such measures were unfairly undermining students' education.

Statewide work stoppages have taken place in Arizona, Oklahoma, West Virginia, Kentucky, Colorado and North Carolina during the 2018–2019 school year. Smaller actions have been launched across the country. The graph from Statista below shows the number of teaching strikes in the U.S. in recent years.

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Statista

But the Department of Education has refused to cave to the industrial action. Speaking at a conference in Baltimore on Monday, DeVos said teachers should air their grievances outside of classroom hours.

"I think it's important that adults have adult disagreements on adult time, and that they not ultimately hurt kids in the process," DeVos said. "I think too often they're doing so by walking out of classrooms and having arguments in the way that they are."

But American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten dismissed DeVos' comments. She told Newsweek, "It's so rich when people cut budgets and make it impossible to teach until they take action at the last resort to try to actually get kids what they need. Those same people who have made it impossible then say, 'Oh, well they shouldn't disrupt kids.'"

The AFT—the second largest teachers' union in the country representing some 1.7 million people—has been involved in strikes across the country. The union and its members have rallied against low wages, large class sizes and other issues.

Weingarten suggested it was "the height of hypocrisy" for DeVos to "make it impossible for teachers to teach" and then blame the teachers for drastic action. After all, she added, strikes "are never a first resort, they are always a last resort." This is something Weingarten believes the general public already knows. "The public understood…that teachers want what children need," she explained. "Teachers went on strike for kids, not on kids."

DeVos did agree that "great" teachers should be "well paid," but did not elaborate on how much was reasonable nor offer support to those who are demanding improved working conditions.

Responding to the secretary's comments on salaries, Weingarten issued a separate statement suggesting it is "great that Betsy finally thinks higher teacher salaries are important."

"I'd be delighted if Betsy wants to get all teachers close to $200,000—they deserve that—and so much more," Weingarten added, before remarking on the wealth held by DeVos billionaire family. "We could do this if Betsy worked with us to revoke tax cuts for rich people. She won't even have to give up the summer homes and the yachts."

Speaking to Newsweek, Weingarten said that if DeVos truly wanted to help teachers, she should listen and give educators the resources they need, "instead of cutting the federal budget, instead of privatizing and making things harder, instead of being so anti-public education."

"But she won't help," Weingarten predicted. "She makes things harder and then—no surprise—she criticizes. And when that doesn't work, she insults and disparages. That's just who she is, and that's part of the reason she garners very little respect and has gotten very little done since she has been secretary of education."

Betsy DeVos teacher strike education AFT
Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos is pictured discussing proposed budget estimates for the Education Department on March 28 in Washington, D.C. American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten issued a statement suggesting it is “great that Betsy finally thinks higher teacher salaries are important.” Zach Gibson/Getty Images
Teacher's Union Says 'Elitist' Betsy DeVos Is Making Teaching 'Impossible': 'Strikes Are Never a First Resort' | U.S.