Hundreds of protesters filled Bellevue Way as Betsy DeVos, President Donald Trump’s secretary of education, came to Bellevue to address the Washington Policy Center’s annual dinner on Friday at the Hyatt Regency.
DeVos spoke to the 1,500 dinner guests for close to half an hour about what she calls the need for students to be taken out of the public school setting and given a charter school education that is tailored to meet their individual learning style.
“There are still too many kids — way too many kids — trapped in a school that doesn’t meet their needs,” DeVos stated.
DeVos was adamant that the focus should be on the individual students, not the educational system as a whole, and that education should be in the hands of states, rather than the federal government.
“States are best-equipped to solve the unique problems they face,” she said. “They are closest to the people … You’re better able to understand your own circumstances than a central government in a distant capital.”
DeVos compared schools to the food trucks that have sprung up near the Department of Education in Washington, D.C. to cater to politicians on their lunch hour. Just because a person visits a food truck for lunch, she said, does not mean that they hate restaurants or grocery stores; a food truck is simply the right choice for their needs at that time.
DeVos went on to say that while those in opposition have painted charter school advocates as being against public schools and their students and teachers, “nothing could be further from the truth.”
“Real choice cannot be accomplished through a ‘one-size-fits-all’ mandate at the federal level,” she said.
She emphasized that “our children’s futures should not be a partisan issue.”
“I believe in a limited federal government and … I believe in empowering parents,” she said to a room full of cheers. “Those closest to students are best-equipped to serve them.”
King County Councilmember Kathy Lambert, who attended the dinner, told the Reporter beforehand that she was “excited” to hear DeVos’ words.
“The schools of tomorrow need to look very different; children are learning differently,” she said. “I want to hear how she’s going to make education appropriate to today’s learner.”
Among the protesters who lined Bellevue Way before and during the dinner were prominent local politicians, including Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson, King County Executive Dow Constantine and Bellevue Mayor John Stokes, who chastised DeVos for her educational policies.
The crowd, full of protesters of all ages, shouted passionate chants such as, “Hey hey, ho ho, Betsy DeVos has got to go” and, “Who’s got the power? We got the power.” Signs with witty slogans such as “Ikea has better cabinets” towered above the crowd, and a giant, blow-up cat balloon symbolized the “corporate fat cats” that protesters said have become too involved in American politics.
Constantine emphasized his ties to the public education system, noting that he is “the proud son of two public school teachers” and the “proud graduate of public schools,” and that he and his wife will send their young daughter to the local public school when she is old enough to start in two years.
“You are failing the American people,” Constantine said, directed at Trump and his administration. “So yes, we are gonna keep showing up … til we say with one voice, ‘Betsy, you’re dismissed. Oh, and Donald — you’re fired.’”
Ferguson told the crowd that the state of Washington has sued the Trump administration 19 times so far over their policies, most recently over last week’s birth control rollback. Two of those suits, he said, have been against DeVos.
“Whose side is she on, anyway?” he said to the screaming crowd. “Not ours.”
The protest started as a rally by the Equity in Education Coalition, the Seattle-based education advocacy group, but quickly grew into a large event co-sponsored by a host of other organizations, such as the Washington State Democratic Party, the Washington Education Association and the Washington State Labor Council.
Sharonne Navas, co-founder and executive director of the EEC, said that DeVos wants to “make the rich richer and profit off of our students” and “embodies a lot of what is wrong with our country.”
“Your zip code should not dictate what kind of education you get,” Navas said, and called on the federal government for fully-funded education and a living wage for teachers.
“A fully-funded public education system is the foundation of our democracy,” 45th Legislative District senatorial candidate Manka Dhingra stated.