McMINNVILLE, Ore. (KOIN) — US Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos arrived at McMinnville High School Wednesday afternoon, part of her swing through the Northwest that will include a fundraiser in Seattle later.
DeVos, the 59-year-old billionaire from Grand Rapids, was a co-founder of the West Michigan Aviation Academy at the Gerald R. Ford International Airport. She will also visit McMinnville High School’s Engineering and Space Academy Wednesday.
She did not give a speech at the school, but she did give a statement about the visit and answered 5 questions from local media.
Watch below: Betsy DeVos answers questions from local media
With protesters outside, DeVos was asked what she would tell people who think she doesn’t believe in public education.
“I do support public education, so that’s just false to begin with,” DeVos said. “I support great schools, great education, and I want to see every single child in this country have an opportunity — an equal opportunity — to get a great education, regardless what kind of a school it is.
“I think we should focus less on the word that comes before school and more on what we’re doing to make sure each individual child has the opportunity to become everything they could be.”
KOIN 6 News’ Lisa Balick then asked what DeVos would tell people at McMinnville High School, a public school, who are concerned that dollars could be moved away from public schools and given to charter and alternative schools.
DeVos responded, “I view education as an investment in individual students and I think that’s how we should view our kids education as investing in them and focus less on systems and buildings than we do on doing what’s right for each child.”
DeVos arrived in a McMinnville High classroom and stayed for about 15 minutes during a Power Point presentation about skills teachers try to instill in their students. Then, she took a brief tour of the school, heading to AP English and History classes and sitting-in with students. She then met with the media before continuing with her visit to the school’s space and engineering academy, where the media was not allowed.
Both supporters and opponents of DeVos and her policies are expected to be very visible during her visit. The Northwest Trump Alliance for Change, a group that backs school choice and vouchers, will be there. Some students told KOIN 6 News they will stage a walk-out.
Betsy DeVos Protest
While both sides were represented outside DeVos’ visit to McMinnville, there were overwhelmingly more people opposed to the Secretary of Education than in favor.
“If she were to have it her way, this will no longer be McMinnville High School, but it would be some kind of charter school,” said Steve Harloff, a retired english teacher, said. “And some kids would be allowed to come here, and some other kids would not be allowed to come here.”
Pam Prosise, another protester against DeVos, said, “I don’t believe she believes in public education. Her goal is to convert us to a corporate system. Vouchers and big money.”
Brittany Hall, an organizer and supporter of DeVos, said DeVos has done a great job, though she’s been met with opposition.
“What’s horrible about school choice?” Hall said. “To let your kids let them go where it’s going to fit their needs best — where they’re going to be educated where they should be.”
Protesters began gathering shortly before 1 p.m. in preparation for DeVos’ arrival. There were about 250 protesters by 2 p.m. and less than 10 DeVos supporters.
The protest, organized by Action Together Oregon, ran from 1- 3 p.m. on Evans Street between 15th and 17th.
Organizers reminded people on the event’s Facebook page to only protest on the sidewalks and to not interfere with pedestrians or traffic.
She was nominated by President Trump to become the 11th Secretary of Education. On February 8, 2017, VP Mike Pence cast the tiebreaking vote in the Senate to confirm her.
Born: Elizabeth Prince in Grand Rapids, Michigan on January 8, 1958
Family: Her father was an entrepreneur and millionaire through the auto parts trade. Younger brother Erik was a Navy SEAL and CIA operative who began Blackwater USA, a private military company.
Married: She married Dick DeVos, son of Richard DeVos Sr., a founder of Amway. Dick DeVos ran for Governor of Michigan and lost badly to Jennifer Granholm.
Betsy DeVos is a former chair of the Michigan Republican Party. She said she made about $2 million in political donations in 2016, including to Donald Trump’s presidential campaign.
She has been a longtime proponent of school choice, including offering vouchers to families for private schools. She has also been a proponent of charter schools and worked to get these ideas passed in Michigan but lost at the ballot box.
A Detroit Free Press investigation revealed Michigan taxpayers put nearly $1 billion a year into charter schools, but Michigan has among the nation’s weakest laws regulating charters.
In 2014, a year-long investigation by the Free Press found that Michigan taxpayers pour nearly $1 billion a year into charter schools, but that state laws regulating charters are among the nation’s weakest, with little accountability in how taxpayer dollars are spent or how well children are educated.