This coming Friday, two big crowds are expected at the Hyatt Regency in Bellevue for Betsy DeVos’ first visit to Washington state as U.S. secretary of education.
Inside the posh hotel, the Washington Policy Center is expecting 1,500 people for its sold-out gala, where the minimum ticket price is $350.
Outside, DeVos critics expect an equal number of protesters who see DeVos’ support of charter schools and vouchers as a threat to the nation’s public-school system. Nearly 30 organizations plan to have members there, including the state’s largest teachers union.
Organizers hope it will be one of the biggest DeVos protests yet.
“We’re one of the farthest cities from Washington, D.C., but we feel the ripples of the policy changes just as much as they would be felt in D.C.,” said Sharonne Navas, executive director of the Equity in Education Coalition and an organizer of the rally. “It’s time for (DeVos) to understand that the Seattle area will stand by its progressive ideology.”
Across the country, DeVos’ visits to schools and events have largely followed the same pattern: The most controversial education secretary in recent history meets with supporters inside, amid protests outside.
DeVos, a billionaire philanthropist, has championed charter schools run by for-profit operators in her home state of Michigan and school-choice systems that allow students to use public money to attend private schools.
That’s raised the ire of those who see vouchers and charters — public-funded schools run by private organizations — as part of an attempt to privatize the nation’s public school system.
The Washington Policy Center, which describes itself as a free-market think tank, invited DeVos because of her distinguished role as a Cabinet member. Dann Mead Smith, the center’s president, said that alone is reason enough to ask her to speak.
“Why would you not want to hear from the country’s top education official, whether you agree with her or not?” he asked. “We felt like we should give people the opportunity to hear from her.”
But Navas said DeVos has already been given that opportunity. One example, she said, is DeVos’ decision to rescind the guidance that President Barack Obama’s administration gave colleges and universities on how to handle allegations of sexual assault.
“She has been clear she doesn’t care about civil rights; she doesn’t care about Title IX. She’s been heard,” Navas said.