Public Education in U.S. Threatened Under Betsy DeVos, Union Leader Randi Weingarten Says

Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos speaks as President Donald Trump listens during a parent-teacher conference session at the Roosevelt Room of the White House on February 14 in Washington, D.C. Alex Wong/Getty

The president of one of the country's largest teachers unions is again calling out Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, and she's not mincing words.

Randi Weingarten, who leads the 1.6 million-member American Federation of Teachers, told Salon writer and podcast host Chauncey DeVega recently that DeVos and her boss are attacking public schools. DeVos in particular, she said, "is the most ideological anti-public education person to ever be nominated or confirmed to that position."

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It is just DeVos six months since became education secretary, and she's spent much of her time in office defending herself. The drama started just after President Donald Trump appointed her: DeVos didn't go to public school, and she has not worked in one, NBC News reported. Instead, she's a devoted advocate of allowing parents to choose which schools their children attend, whether those are charter or private institutions, and of reducing the federal government's role in local education.

That concerns Weingarten, who not only criticized DeVos's appointment and stances but also Trump's budget proposal that would cut $9.2 billion from the department. (House Republicans said last month they wanted to reduce the budget by $2.4 million.)

"She has actually advocated for the worst per-capita budget cuts for kids who are vulnerable or poor that we've since Reagan. DeVos also wants the worst budget cuts in raw numbers ever," Weingarten told DeVega. "Who is fighting for the predatory lenders rather than the borrowers in terms of student loan debt? Who sides against transgender children? Who sides against girls in colleges who have been assaulted? Who is willing to say over and over again the discrimination laws of the federal government do not need to be applied to private schools or to vouchers? Betsy DeVos."

Weingarten's opposition to DeVos isn't new. In April, they did a school visit together, but last month they fought. Weingarten gave a speech lambasting the secretary's push to "destabilize and privatize the public schools that millions of Americans value and rely upon," according to The Washington Post.

DeVos promptly argued back that the union leader wanted to defend the status quo.

"This drives the big-government folks nuts, but it's important to reiterate: Education is best addressed at the state, local and family levels," DeVos said in an address of her own. "The time of inefficient, top-down, one-size-fits-all mandates is over."

As of last fall, there were just over 50 million American students in public elementary and secondary schools, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. About 5.3 million students attended private institutions.