The nation’s top teachers met with Betsy DeVos, and not all of them were thrilled with what she had to say

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos met privately with the nation’s top teachers Monday and asked them to talk about the obstacles they face in doing their jobs. At least one of those teachers told DeVos that some of her policies are hurting public education.

“We have a problem where public money is siphoned off from the public schools and given to children who are going to charter and private schools,” Oklahoma Teacher of the Year Jon Hazell said.

DeVos’s response shocked him, he said.

“She immediately answered that it was her goal to redefine what education is and that she wants to call all of it public education,” said Hazell, a high school science teacher.

Hazell was among 50 teachers who were in Washington representing their states as teachers of the year. The visit from DeVos was a surprise.

Hazell said he told DeVos that funding for charter schools and private school vouchers had further strained his state’s education budget — which has seen some of the nation’s most dramatic cuts over the past decade.

He said he has watched those budgets shrink from year to year, and though his community has been shielded from the cuts thanks to a wealthy local tax base, his colleagues in virtually every other part of the state face enormous challenges. One friend, a superintendent, lamented that he could no longer afford art or music teachers. Oklahoma teachers are among the lowest-paid in the country, and some schools have taken extreme measures — moving to four-day weeks, for example — to make ends meet.

Hazell said DeVos defended her position on school choice, saying children need a way to leave failing schools.

“My point to her was you’re creating these bad schools when you’re taking money out of the public schools system,” he said.

Hazell said the exchange was “passionate” but respectful.

But other teachers reacted with similar shock and concern on hearing the nation’s top education official describe private schools as part of the public school system.

“One of the things that was so stark and memorable in that exchange was. … Secretary DeVos trying to redefine what the word ‘public’ is,” said Michael Soskil Sr., Pennsylvania’s teacher of the year. “It was almost like Orwellian doublespeak to me.”

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