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DeVos grilled on private school funding
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Betsy DeVos is Trump's education secretary

Critics seized on DeVos from the start

CNN  — 

Protests at a high school this week have shown what was true since before she was even sworn in as education secretary: Betsy DeVos is a lightning rod.

There was a dramatic outcry by Senate Democrats and a never-before-seen, tiebreaking vote to confirm her. Gun control groups rejected her comments on firearms on campus and critics said she’d spent her career undermining public schools.

After nearly four months on the job, the fires have only been stoked.

Critics seized on DeVos from the start. While her mother was a public school teacher, she never taught or worked in school administration herself. Instead, she founded organizations that pumped millions of dollars into efforts to promote charter schools, voucher programs and other alternatives to traditional public schools known collectively as school choice.

DeVos’ believes her own remarks have “not at all” hurt her ability to transform the education system, spokeswoman Elizabeth Hill said, providing a list of accomplishments so far. Those include rolling back education regulations proposed by the Obama administration, reforms to the student loan program, and a pro-school choice budget proposal for the federal government.

Here’s a look at her most controversial moments so far:

Connecticut high school is ‘a dangerous daycare’

DeVos landed back in the headlines this week after teachers and Connecticut’s Democratic governor rallied against her outside East Hartford High School, protesting her characterization of the school in a recent appearance before Congress. She quoted a former student named Michael, who she said was shunted from grade-to-grade with barely passing marks while being bullied.

“This constant fear made him hate school. He described the school he was assigned to as and I quote ‘nothing more than adult daycare, a dangerous daycare,’ ” DeVos said. Teachers sent a “message that they didn’t think Michael would amount to much” and there are “countless other students like him.”

Gov. Dannel Malloy said the student’s story “undoubtedly had some validity for that individual” but was an unfair characterization of the school and education system.

“To have those words that were repeated about this institution this community without any fact checking without any background doesn’t speak well,” said Malloy.

President-elect Donald Trump and Betsy DeVos after their meeting at Trump International Golf Club, November 19, in Bedminster Township, New Jersey. Trump has offered her the Education Secretary.
Who is Trump's education secretary pick?
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Met middle school teachers who aren’t ‘empowered’

Once in office, DeVos visited a middle school in Washington, and later described the teachers she met as being in “receive mode” and are “waiting to be told what they have to do,” rather than “empowered to facilitate great teaching.”

The school, Jefferson Academy, blasted DeVos in return, saying she’s right only if “you mean we ‘receive’ students at a 2nd grade level and move them to an 8th grade level.”

Guns on campus and ‘potential grizzlies’

Her confirmation hearing answer to a gun-related question was made all the more memorable because of how she answered it.

“Locales and states” should decide whether guns are allowed on campuses, she said, and speculated a particular Wyoming school may need a firearm “to protect from potential grizzlies.”

In a later interview, DeVos said the answer “probably wasn’t the best illustration I could have given.”

Discrimination in private schools receiving federal funding?

DeVos has long advocated for voucher systems that give parents funds towards enrolling students at private schools. That position is already controversial, with critics saying a voucher system would undercut public schools.

The secretary sparked newfound controversy when she wouldn’t say if the federal government would bar funding for private schools that discriminate. She said states would be required to “set up the rules around that.”

“What if they said we are not accepting African-American students, but that was OK with the state,” Rep. Katherine Clark, D-Massachusetts pressed her. “Do you see any situation where you would step in?”

DeVos replied that the “Office of Civil Rights and our Title IX (anti-discrimination) protections are broadly applicable across the board.”

“I am shocked that you cannot come up with one example of discrimination that you would stand up for students,” responded Clark.

Colleges founded because of segregation were ‘pioneers’ of school choice

DeVos was accused of glossing over history after a meeting with officials from historically black colleges and universities.

“HBCUs are real pioneers when it comes to school choice,” she wrote in a statement. “They are living proof that when more options are provided to students, they are afforded greater access and greater quality.”

Critics pointed out that Jim Crow laws and racist policies barred African-Americans from enrolling, prompting the creation of HBCUs. DeVos appeared to respond by later saying HBCUs were “born not out of mere choice, but out of necessity, in the face of racism, and in the aftermath of the Civil War.”

Opponents of school choice are “flat Earthers”

In a recent speech, DeVos took blasted critics of her school choice vision.

She called for moving education out of the Stone Age and referred to her opponents as “flat Earthers.”

“They will be hurting the children and families who can least afford it. If politicians in a state block education choice, it means those politicians do not support equal opportunity for all kids,” she said.