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One Week In, Betsy DeVos Continues Outreach to School Choice Supporters

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In her first public address as a confirmed member of President Donald Trump's administration, U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos chose to speak to members of the Magnet School Association of America.

The day before, she and President Trump met with a small group of educators and parents as part of a "listening session" to discuss education. In that group of 10 were two home schooling parents, two private school parents, a charter school parent, and private school teacher along with a public school principal, a public school parent, and the president of a dropout prevention program.

DeVos' outreach to sectors beyond traditional public schools comes as no surprise considering that her experience in education policy was almost solely as a school choice advocate and philanthropist.

Speaking to members of the magnet school group, DeVos praised magnet schools, which are public schools of choice organized around a particular subject such as arts or science, as the "original school choice option." But she stopped short of promising more funding for the schools. Here's what my colleague Alyson Klein wrote for the Politics K-12 blog:

"You may not be tooting your horns well enough," she said. "And I think there's ample opportunity to really highlight the tremendous successes of so many magnet schools across the country. That's a great opportunity to seize especially as we have more and greater conversation about meeting the needs of all kids and giving all kids an equal opportunity for a high-quality, great education. I'm really agnostic as to the delivery mechanism as long as we're focused on what a child needs and what is best for each individual child."

...Mann [the executive director of the Magnet School Association of America] noted that magnet schools lag behind charter schools when it comes to federal funding. Magnets are currently receiving about $96 million a year, compared to charters, which get about $333 million from the feds.

The Obama administration had sought an increase for magnets, to $115 million, in part to encourage districts to use the schools as a strategy to make schools more integrated. The House Appropriations Committee, though, is heading in the other direction, seeking to eliminate funding for the program altogether in its fiscal year 2017 spending bill.

DeVos wouldn't commit to asking for more money for magnets. "I think all great schools should be highlighted and should be supported," she said. "That said, I don't think we should be as focused necessarily on funding school buildings, as much as we should be having conversations about funding students. If students are funded at the appropriate levels and equally and they're making choices to go to schools like magnet schools, you all are doing a tremendous job."

In an interview with reporters after DeVos departed, Mann said he wasn't dismayed that she wasn't ready to promise more money for magnets.

During the meeting with parents and teachers, Trump reiterated his promise to invest billions in school choice nationally—a largely undefined plan that doesn't necessarily preclude money from going to magnet schools. More from the Politics K-12 blog:

In remarks before the conversation, Trump championed what so far has been his administration's favorite K-12 policy: school choice. On the campaign trail, Trump pitched allowing $20 billion in unspecified federal funding to follow children to any school they choose, including a private school.

"Millions of poor, disadvantaged children are trapped in failing schools, and this crisis--and it really is a crisis ... we're going to change it around and especially for our African-American communities," he said seated at a table with parents and educators. "It's been very, very tough and unfair. That's why I want every disadvantaged child in America no matter where they live, to have a choice about where they go to school. And it's worked out so well in some communities where it's been properly run and properly done." (The research on student outcomes for both charter schools and private school vouchers, is mixed. For more, check out this explainer.)

DeVos told the group she was "really excited to be here today with parents and educators, representing traditional public schools, charter public schools, home schools, private schools—a range of choices. And we're eager to listen and learn from you, your ideas for how we can ensure that all of our kids have an equal opportunity for a high-quality, great education," according to a White House pool report.

But DeVos' first official visit as education secretary to a traditional public school last week didn't go as smoothly. Protesters blocked DeVos from entering a District of Columbia middle school, though she eventually got in through another entrance.

Related stories:


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Photo:┬áPresident Donald Trump listens as Education Secretary Betsy DeVos speaks during a meeting with parents and teachers on Feb. 14 at the White House. —Evan Vucci/AP

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