U.S. President Donald Trump congratulated Betsy DeVos Tuesday for her confirmation last week as education secretary and said she is the right person to address what he described as an education “crisis” in America.
“We’re going to change it around, especially for the African-American communities. It’s been very, very tough and unfair,” Trump said. “That’s why 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.”
The president’s remarks were made at a White House “listening session” that was attended by people who have taught at public and private schools and by parents who have home-schooled their children.
DeVos was confirmed by the Senate as education secretary last week only when Vice President Mike Pence, who is also president of the Senate, cast the tie-breaking vote. It was the first time in U.S. history a vice president broke a tie to confirm a cabinet nominee.
“I want to congratulate you on having gone through a very tough trial and a very unfair trial and you won,” Trump said.
Opposition to DeVos’ nomination was fueled by her longtime support for school choice and a track record of describing traditional public schools as a “dead end.”
Every Democratic senator voted against her confirmation, as well as two Republicans.
DeVos was temporarily blocked recently while trying to visit a public school in Washington. After the incident, several well-known critics of DeVos called on protesters to allow her to visit public schools in the nation’s capital so she could become more familiar with them.
The San Diego, California, Board of Education was prepared to vote Tuesday on a resolution to invite DeVos to visit the city’s public schools. But the resolution was withdrawn Monday after teacher unions complained to the labor-friendly board.
The board’s president, former labor leader Richard Barrera issued a statement saying the time is not right for a DeVos visit.
“Given the polarizing nature of the DeVos nomination and confirmation vote, however, it is clear this would be the wrong time to engage the Secretary in dialog,” Barrera wrote. “Now is the time for those of us who believe in public education to stand together and confront the threat clearly posed by the DeVos ideology.”
DeVos’ would likely receive a warmer reception in New Mexico, where Public Education Secretary Hanna Skandera said she would be welcome to any school in the southwestern state.