A local take on Trump's education secretary pick, Betsy DeVos

Alyssa Pressler
  • On Nov. 23, Donald Trump chose Betsy DeVos for his education secretary.
  • DeVos is pro-school choice and runs the American Federation for Children.

There are mixed local feelings about President-elect Donald Trump's choice for education secretary, Betsy DeVos.

Betsy DeVos, President-elect Donald Trump's nominee for Education Secretary, sits with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Ky., before the start of their meeting on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, Dec. 1, 2016. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

DeVos is a former Michigan Republican Party chairwoman who leads the American Federation for Children, which seeks to improve education in the nation by offering parents more education choices.

Trump has been a staunch supporter of school choice, which essentially means that students and parents would have alternative options to public schools in their area, such as charter schools or private schools. He also has said he hopes to add a federal investment of $20 billion toward school choice. His choice of DeVos, announced Nov. 23, might further the initiative.

"Under her leadership, we will reform the U.S. education system and break the bureaucracy that is holding our children back so that we can deliver world-class education and school choice to all families," the incoming president said.

DeVos will need to be confirmed by the Republican-controlled U.S. Senate, but Sen. Lamar Alexander has called DeVos "an excellent choice," according to reporting by The Associated Press.

Local supporters of school choice are happy with the decision. State Rep. Stan Saylor, R-Windsor Township, said DeVos is an advocate for children and will help improve education in areas that are struggling. He pointed to the York City School District as an example.

Rep. Stan Saylor, R-Windsor Township, speaks at the Republican Committee election watch in the White Rose Room at PeoplesBank Park, Tuesday, Nov. 7, 2016. John A. Pavoncello photo

"We have a great education system, but we’ve had a few failings in particular areas," Saylor said. "We’ve had problems in York City and other areas. It’s real important that parents have options, and I think Ms. DeVos will make sure the education system is working for every student."

Saylor explained that school choice allows parents to choose the education that best fits their child, which might not always be public school. With charter schools, Christian schools and Catholic schools, more students can have the opportunity to get an education that prepares them for family-sustaining jobs, college or a trade school, Saylor said.

State Sen. Scott Wagner, R-Spring Garden Township, also was pleased with Trump's pick, saying he met DeVos a few weeks ago at a the Republican Governors Association's annual conference in Orlando, Florida, and felt that she would be a great choice based on their interactions. Like Saylor, Wagner said he was happy she is such a strong supporter of school choice, as he is.

"I think that people should have a choice," Wagner said. "I think there’s some school districts that aren’t accommodating students currently. Betsy is all about choice, and I think that, at the end of the day, we need to start focusing on the children."

In this file photo, state Sen. Scott Wagner speaks ahead of vice presidential candidate's Mike Pence's campaign stop in Manchester Township at Penn Waste Inc. Thursday, Sept. 29, 2016. Amanda J. Cain photo

Wagner said he hopes DeVos looks at some of the federal mandates related to education to see how they are working and if they should be revised or thrown out. He pointed to Common Core as a mandate he hopes she will look into, though Common Core is not a federal mandate and is adopted on a state-by-state basis.

He also believes that because she is wealthy, money and other incentives will not play a role in her decision making.

"I think she's a great choice," Wagner said. "She's doing this for all the right reasons. Money and special interests aren't going to influence her."

Teachers: Local teachers aren't so sure of Trump's choice.

Kevin Downs, president of the West Shore Education Association and a middle school science teacher, said he is worried about DeVos and her strong support of school vouchers. School vouchers are payments directly to parents that would allow them to send their child to a school outside of the public school district, and they often are a move that supporters of school choice like.

Downs is concerned that implementing a school voucher system in the state could take funds away from public schools, which are already struggling to fund the programs they need in their district.

"There’s a big concern that they're going to start siphoning money away from education," Downs said.

Carol Hill-Evans — the new representative for the state's 95th House District, which includes the York City School District — has come out in support of public schools in the past and has said that she hopes to increase funding for local schools.

In this file photo, Democrat Carol Hill-Evans discusses issues of community concern during the 95th Legislative District seat in Pennsylvania House of Representatives Forum at the Willman Business Center on York College of Pennsylvania campus in Spring Garden Township, Wednesday, Nov. 2, 2016. Dawn J. Sagert photo

Education and the election

"Basic things that you and I took advantage of when we were in school, our kids were living without," Hill-Evans has said. "What I would like to do is continue to restore our funding back into education so that we can bring our schools back to the way they used to be with a full, well-rounded education."

Hill-Evans could not be reached for more comment for this story.