Counter-rallies planned for Betsy DeVos’ visit to Bellevue

U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos is coming to Bellevue today.

And her anticipated presence has sparked hundreds to plan their protest on Facebook.

DeVos will attend the Washington Policy Center’s annual dinner at Bellevue’s Hyatt Regency and will speak on education reform. Members with the Washington Policy Center expect 1,500 to attend the dinner and call it the “largest and most prestigious annual policy event in the state.”

Neil Cavuto with Fox News is also a keynote speaker.

In a blog post by Liv Finne, the director of the Center for Education at Washington Policy Center, she explained why they chose DeVos to speak.

“First, as U.S. Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos is one of the top policy leaders in the country,” Finne wrote. “She administers $68 billion in federal grants to schools, including $22 billion in Pell Grants that benefit low-income students. Thousands of families in Washington state depend on these programs.”

Finne’s second and third reasons included DeVos’ leadership of the Department of Education Office of Civil Rights and that she is recognized as the nation’s leading proponent of school choice.

“… If a child faces learning difficulties, bullying, or racial barriers at a traditional public school, that family should have the right to choose a different school,” she continued. “Also, school choice is much more common today than in the past. Not only do 5 million children attend private schools, but 3.1 million students in 43 states attend public charter schools.”

Finne went on to say 400,000 children in 31 states and Washington D.C. receive vouchers, tax credit scholarships or education savings accounts to attend private schools.

The fourth reason, Finne added, is that DeVos has seen how the Washington D.C. voucher program has closed the achievement gap between “minority and white students, resulting in unacceptably high drop-out rates for students of color.”

Finne said those who are most upset about DeVos’ visit to Bellevue “are those who gain most under the current system,” calling out the Washington Education Association and their need to “maintain their power” and keep “mandatory dues money flowing to their back accounts.”

However, Equity in Education Coalition of Washington, an organization who has 700-plus confirmed to attend their protest today against DeVos, states otherwise.

In a web post, members of the coalition say DeVos supports “privatizing education, eliminating the regulatory oversight of private schools funded by public dollars, and eroding America’s public education.”

“So far in her time as Secretary, DeVos has made it a priority to disempower the Office of Civil Rights, which handles discrimination charges and protects the most marginalized of students,” the post reads. “She has repealed protections for students repaying loans to fund their higher education. And, at every chance, DeVos has advocated for privatizing public education, a controversial and, at many times, unsuccessful mission of hers, that will serve to the detriment of students everywhere.”

The coalitions writes DeVos is the “last person” who would be influencing Washington’s education policy as the state is “on the brink of crafting a plan that will fully fund K-12 education for each and every child.”

The Equity in Education Coalition of Washington is just one organization that plans to counter-rally. The WEA-Sammamish Uniserv Council, which represents Bellevue, Mercer Island, Issaquah, Lake Washington, Snoqualmie, Tahoma and Riverview, will counter-rally as well.

Michele Miller, the president of the WEA-Sammamish Uniserv Council, said they hope to bring attention to DeVos’ agenda to privatize public education.

She said she thinks it’s sad that DeVos is attending a political fundraiser – the annual dinner is $350 a seat – with a message that schools are failing under the current public education system. And, yet, she is coming to a district, Bellevue School District, which is one of the best performing in the state and country. Miller pointed out that, to her knowledge, neither DeVos or her team has inquired about visiting any of the schools either.

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