Dozens of parents and neighbors, on both sides school choice debate, gathered outside a neighborhood elementary school in suburban Washington to protest a visit by U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos on Thursday.
DeVos, accompanied by Maryland Governor Larry Hogan, read the Dr. Seuss classic, “Oh The Places You’ll Go” to a group of 7- and 8-year-old public school students.
Her visit last month to another Washington area school — Jefferson Middle School Academy — was met with protesters who briefly prevented her entry into the building.
The billionaire philanthropist has long championed programs such as school vouchers and school choice, which allows parents to choose among traditional public schools, charter schools and private schools in a district.
Critics, however, say those programs further privatize education, while undermining the public school system that is mostly supported by local taxes.
“I am very concerned about her approach to providing vouchers to people who are putting their kids in private schools or religious schools or schools where there is little, or no, oversight,” said Heidi Bumper, who joined Thursday’s demonstration.
“We need to support our public schools and provide funding for our public school educations. For all kids.”
Opponents of school choice say billions of taxpayer dollars could be funneled to private Christian and Catholic schools, which are the majority of U.S. private schools. This would further blur the separation between church and state.
But fans of DeVos plan for increased school choice and vouchers argue that it often provides a lifeline for those parents with children in underperforming schools and districts while giving public schools and incentive to do better.
Carderock parent Ann Moore said, “if schools had to compete for students, they’d have better outcomes.”
“I think the problem is the [teachers’] unions and I think Secretary DeVos has the right idea — minimizing the impact of the unions on education and giving parents the right to choose, especially in inner city schools and poor performing schools in rural areas. Let’s give parents options.”