More than 100 educators from across the state are expected to protest Wednesday’s appearance by U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos in Colorado Springs, particularly piqued by her support of voucher programs, charter schools and proposed cuts to federal education funding.
DeVos is to attend the 20th anniversary celebration of Parents Challenge, a local nonprofit that provides scholarships, similar to education vouchers, for more than 200 low-income children annually to attend a school of their choice.
At the invitation-only event at James Irwin Charter Academy’s high school, in Harrison School District 2, DeVos will deliver remarks and participate in a panel discussion on “Why Choice Matters.”
The discussion will “highlight stories of parents and students and demonstrate how education freedom has led to better results for students and their families,” event organizers say.
Teachers and other educators are “so upset over the pro-charter privatization and cuts to federal funding Secretary DeVos has put forward and continues to support” that “they want to vocally and demonstratively show their displeasure,” said Phyllis Robinette, president of the Pikes Peak Education Association.
DeVos has proposed cutting $7.1 billion from the 2020 federal education budget, compared with what lawmakers budgeted this year.
She promotes school choice and assistance for students to attend charter or private schools, which teachers unions say hurts traditional schools.
DeVos also believes that any student can learn, regardless of what ZIP code a family lives in, and advocates for equal access to school choice for low-income students.
Parents Challenge founder Steve Schuck has been friends with DeVos for decades and has worked with her on school choice initiatives.
Teachers from Denver, Greeley, Pueblo, Lamar and other cities will join members of the Colorado Springs teachers union at a protest before Wednesday’s luncheon, Robinette said.
Wearing the color red in show of the “Red for Ed” campaign, participants will meet in a field near the school, march, wave signs with messages opposing charter schools and voucher programs such as Parents Challenge and hear speakers talk about the issues.
A main issue is “getting corporations out of our public schools,” Robinette said.
Money used for corporate tax exemptions in Colorado instead could be used to “help solve the funding issue for public education,” she said.
“Our call to action is to bring attention to her dismantling of public education and funding,” Robinette said.
“We’re hoping the general public would take notice and support us in this effort.”
DeVos visited the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs in 2017 and met with leaders and cadets as part of a “Rethink School” tour of six states. No protests were staged then.
“We were hoping things would turn around, and she would listen to educators and our chronic need for additional funding and support,” Robinette said.
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