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Betsy DeVos Charter Schools K-12

Trump, DeVos and Spicer addressed school choice — without publicly using the word 'voucher'

President Trump and Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos addressed parents and educators Tuesday. (Alex Wong / Getty Images)
President Trump and Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos addressed parents and educators Tuesday. (Alex Wong / Getty Images)

On the campaign trail, Donald Trump said little about education, but he did propose an expensive plan for expanding school vouchers, which allow public money to go toward tuition at private, often religious, schools.

Then he picked Betsy DeVos, a long-time voucher advocate , as his secretary of Education.

Since DeVos' confirmation, there has been a flurry of legislative activity around charter schools and vouchers in some states.

But on Tuesday, in what was billed as a "parent-teacher conference listening session," Trump and DeVos met with educators and parents, and vouchers weren't mentioned once — at least not according to White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer's briefing, the White House pool report and a transcript provided by the White House.

"I want every single disadvantaged child in America, no matter what their background or where they live, to have a choice about where they go to school," Trump said. "And it's worked out so well in some communities."

He praised charter schools, which are publicly funded but can be privately run and tend to garner some bipartisan support.

"Under the current system, the president believes too many of our children are trapped in failing schools, especially in the African American community," Spicer said in his briefing.

DeVos did thank those gathered for "representing traditional public schools, charter public schools, home schools, private schools, a range of choices." But private schools didn't get much more play than that.

Does that mean Trump is backing away from vouchers? It's too soon to say. During her bumpy confirmation process, DeVos told senators repeatedly that she would not impose vouchers on states that don't want them.

However, the notion of creating a federal school-choice tax credit appears to be gaining steam — and it has California's top education officials worried.

Trump used the meeting to praise DeVos. "I want to congratulate you on having gone through a very tough trial and a very unfair trial, and you won," he said, adding that she "showed toughness and genius."

Special education was a rocky point for DeVos during her confirmation. After the principal of a special education center in Virginia introduced herself, Trump asked whether she had seen a spike in the number of students diagnosed with autism. She said yes.

"It’s like really a horrible thing to watch, the tremendous amount of increase," Trump said. He told her, "Maybe we can do something."

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