Hundreds of Miami Teachers to Protest Today Against Betsy DeVos, Trump's Education Secretary Pick

Hundreds of Miami Teachers to Protest Today Against Betsy DeVos, Trump's Education Secretary Pick
Photo by A Katz /
Betsey DeVos, President-elect Donald Trump's choice to run the U.S Department of Education, said this week she believes the biggest threat facing the nation's schools might be bears.

Teachers, meanwhile, believe the biggest threat facing America's public education system is actually Betsy DeVos.

"During her confirmation hearing, she could not answer questions, would not answer others, and did not have an understanding of basic policy terms," United Teachers of Dade President Karla Hernandez-Mats tells New Times. "For her to be the leader of education in the nation, it baffles us."

So in solidarity with teachers in at least 27 other states today, Miami-Dade's teachers' union plans to protest to make sure DeVos, Trump, and the U.S. Senate education committee know that DeVos won't be able to dismantle the nation's public school system without a fight.

The union says between 500 and 800 teachers are expected to rally outside Miami Jackson Senior High School on NW 36th Street at 4:30 p.m. today.

Teachers at the rally will also demand that Trump's administration treat immigrant communities with respect and fairness, and ask that Miami-Dade public schools remain "safe spaces" for immigrant children. Hernandez-Mats says today's protest isn't just limited to teachers and union members.

"Everyone is welcome," she says. "We've reached out to members of the religious community too. Public education is the cornerstone, the last equalizer of our communities. The rally is not just for current participants in the school system."
Teachers across the nation are united in almost complete opposition to Trump's prospective education secretary. DeVos has never worked in any education-related job and neither attended public school herself nor sent her children to public school. However, she is convinced the American public school system does not work and has said multiple times that much of the U.S. education system should be dismantled.

She is mostly known for being a billionaire, major Republican donor, and wife of Richard DeVos, the heir to the Amway Corporation's fortune. Amway is a multilevel marketing company known for selling beauty and home-care products and has been accused multiple times of being a legally operated pyramid scheme. Her brother, Erik Prince, founded the controversial security company Blackwater, the mercenary contracting firm that made millions off the Iraq War before a group of its employees killed 17 innocent Iraqi civilians in 2007. (After getting blacklisted from Washington after the Iraqi murder scandal, Prince is now reportedly advising Trump behind closed doors.)

A think tank that DeVos funds also said in November 2016 that the U.S. should bring back child labor. Really.

Despite having never once encountered the public school system, DeVos is adamant that both charter schools, which are for-profit academies that take public tax dollars but are not subject to government scrutiny, and school vouchers, which give parents public money to use on private-school tuition, are keys to the nation's education system.

But voucher programs have long been criticized for discriminating against children with disabilities and exacerbating inequality. (Vouchers tend to not cover the entire cost of private-school tuition, leaving poor families stuck at underfunded public schools.)

Miami-Dade's teachers' union says it's also worried that DeVos will strip funding from Title I of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, which gives federal money to schools with large numbers of underprivileged kids.

"We're really concerned," Hernandez-Mats says. "We have a diverse urban county, and a majority of our students are low-income. These are black and brown communities. How do we protect black and brown communities? They're not less intelligent; they just don’t have the resources they need to succeed."

Hernandez-Mats adds that the union isn't excited about DeVos's pro-voucher and charter beliefs either.

"Voucher programs have very little accountability to taxpayers," she says. "Students who go to voucher schools or even charter schools, there's no research that indicates these schools are doing better than public schools."

DeVos' ideas were implemented wholesale in Michigan; before charters and voucher programs descended upon Detroit, the city's school system was a middle-of-the-road performer. Now its test scores rank near the bottom in almost every category.

"Even with her track record, all this reform in Michigan, there's nothing to validate that her plan has worked," Hernandez-Mats says. "To put this person who has failed in charge of the entire nation is baffling."
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Jerry Iannelli is a former staff writer for Miami New Times from 2015 to March 2020. He graduated with honors from Temple University. He then earned a master's degree in journalism from Columbia University.