on the schedule

In her first months as education secretary, Betsy DeVos met with lawmakers, pollsters, and Peter Thiel

U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos in March.

Betsy DeVos spent a trip to California this summer having breakfast with Peter Thiel and visiting start-ups aimed at reshaping education.

That’s according to the detailed schedule of the U.S. Education Secretary’s first months on the job, obtained through a records request and posted online this week by the website AltGov2. (The education department did not respond to questions about the schedule, which aligns with the secretary’s public events for those months.)

The schedule, which runs to more than 300 pages, includes calls and meetings with education power brokers, including Republican lawmakers, heads of foundations, charter school leaders, and state schools chiefs.

Some of the meetings reveal more about how DeVos is trying to push her school-choice agenda. Here are a few items of note from the schedule, which ends on July 19:

  • DeVos may not have called Arne Duncan after taking the job, but she did talk to other former education secretaries. She had calls or meetings with Bill Bennett, who served under President Reagan, and with Margaret Spellings and Rod Paige, who served under President George W. Bush.
  • She’s heard from some opposing voices … The topic for a call with the National Alliance of Black School Educators, an organization that opposed DeVos’s appointment, was noted as “introduction to areas of concern.”
  • … and made time for prominent conservative thinkers. Those include Jim DeMint, then of the Heritage Foundation, and Professor Robert P. George of Princeton, who the New York Times Magazine once called “The Conservative-Christian Big Thinker.”
  • She met with conservative pollster Frank Luntz, who is noted as having a “60 slide deck of the words to use and the words to lose” on education issues. He pushes for Republicans to call private-school vouchers “opportunity scholarships.”
  • Her trip to the Bay Area in July included breakfast with Peter Thiel, the billionaire PayPal founder who helped take down Gawker and has drawn attention for his support for President Trump, at the “Thiel residence.” (On education, Thiel has been a longtime critic of traditional colleges.) DeVos also visited the Minerva Project, a for-profit attempt to restructure college learning, and what appears to be Horizons School of Technology, which describes itself online as a “12-16 week immersive program” for undergraduates.
  • She’s staying connected to her home state. The topic noted for a call to former Michigan Governor John Engler: “Catching up.” She recently tapped Engler to chair the board that helps oversee the National Assessment of Educational Progress.
  • JD Vance, author of “Hillbilly Elegy,” also got a call. Politico explored the education angle of his book here.

Tell us what else you find: see a searchable version of the document here.

media blitz

Making the rounds on TV, Betsy DeVos says she hasn’t visited struggling schools and draws sharp criticism

DeVos on the Today Show

U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos has visited all kinds of schools since she took office last year: district-run, charter, private, religious — even a school located in a zoo.

But one kind of school has been left out, she said Sunday on 60 Minutes: schools that are struggling.

It was a curious admission, since DeVos has built her policy agenda on the argument that vast swaths of American schools are so low-performing that their students should be given the choice to leave. That argument, DeVos conceded, is not based on any firsthand experiences.

Host Lesley Stahl pushed DeVos on the schools she’s skipped. Here’s their exchange:

Lesley Stahl: Have you seen the really bad schools? Maybe try to figure out what they’re doing?

DeVos: I have not — I have not — I have not intentionally visited schools that are underperforming.

Stahl: Maybe you should.

DeVos: Maybe I should. Yes.

Her comments attracted criticism from her frequent foes, like American Federation of Teachers head Randi Weingarten, who tweeted:

Even some who are more sympathetic to school choice initiatives said the interview did not go well.

The exchange occupied just a few seconds of the nearly 30 minutes that DeVos spent on television Sunday and Monday, including interviews on Fox and Friends and the Today Show. The appearances followed several school-safety proposals from the White House Sunday, including paying for firearms training for some teachers.

DeVos sidestepped questions about raising the age for gun purchases. “We have to get much broader than just talking about guns, and a gun issue where camps go into their corners,” she said. “We have to go back to the beginning and talk about how these violent acts are even occurring to start with.”

She also endorsed local efforts to decide whether to increase weapons screening at schools. Asked on Fox and Friends about making schools more like airports, with metal detectors and ID checks, DeVos responded, “You know, some schools actually do that today. Perhaps for some communities, for some cities, for some states, that will be appropriate.”

DeVos also said on 60 Minutes that she would look into removing guidance from the Obama administration that was designed to reduce racial disparities in school suspensions and expulsions. Education Week reported, based on comments from an unnamed administration official, that the the guidance would likely land on the DeVos task force’s agenda.

Florida Senator Marco Rubio has argued that the Obama-era guidance may have contributed to Florida shooting by preventing the shooter from being referred to the police. (In fact, the 2013 Broward County program designed to reduce referrals to police for minor offenses predated the 2014 federal guidance.)

Details of the commission were not immediately available. Education Week also reported that “age restrictions for certain firearm purchases,” “rating systems for video games,” and “the effects of press coverage of mass shootings” are likely to be discussed.

“The Secretary will unveil a robust plan regarding the commission’s membership, scope of work and timeline in the coming days,” Liz Hill, a spokesperson for the Department of Education, said in an email.

By the numbers

Trump’s proposed education budget: more for school choice, less for teacher training

PHOTO: Gabriel Scarlett/The Denver Post

In a similar proposal to last year, the Trump administration said Monday that it wants to spend more federal dollars on a school choice program — which includes private school vouchers — and less on after-school initiatives and teacher training.

Last year, the administration’s budget proposal was largely ignored, and many see this year’s as likely to suffer a similar fate.

The plan doubles down on the administration and its Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos’s belief that families should be able to use public money set aside for education to attend any school: public, private, charter, or virtual. It also highlights a key tension for DeVos, who praised the budget but has been sharply critical of past federally driven policy changes.

Overall, the administration is hoping to cut about 5 percent of funding — $3.6 billion — from the federal Department of Education. Keep in mind that federal dollars account for only  about 10 percent of the money that public schools receive, though that money disproportionately goes to high-poverty schools. (The budget initially sought even steeper cuts of over $7 billion, about half of which was restored in a quickly released addendum.)

The latest budget request seeks $1 billion to create a new “opportunity grants” program that states could use to help create and expand private school voucher programs. (The phrase “school voucher” does not appear in the proposal or the Department of Education’s fact sheet, perhaps a nod to the relative unpopularity of the term.) Another $500 million — a major increase from last year — would go to expand charter schools and $98 million to magnet schools.

The proposal would hold steady the funding students with disabilities through the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.

But the request would take the axe to Title II, funding that goes toward teacher training and class-size reductions, and an after-school program known as the 21st Century Community Learning Centers. The administration has argued that both initiatives have proven ineffective. Teacher training advocates in particular have bristled at proposed cuts to Title II.

The budget is likely to get a chilly reception from the public education world, much of which opposes spending cuts and private school vouchers.

Meanwhile, the administration also put out $1.5 trillion infrastructure plan, but it doesn’t include any money specifically targeted for school facilities.