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Donald Trump Picks A Republican Activist As Education Secretary


President-elect Trump has made a provocative choice for secretary of education. Betsy DeVos comes from a wealthy Michigan family. She's a Republican activist and philanthropist. She's been deeply engaged in education for many years with a complex record that has already triggered lively debates on the left and the right. She is an advocate for school choice. That phrase means, in essence, directing public education money to charter schools, private schools or parochial schools. NPR's Claudio Sanchez reports.

CLAUDIO SANCHEZ, BYLINE: In the news release touting his pick for secretary of education, Donald Trump said this about Betsy DeVos - quote, "under her leadership, we can deliver a world-class education and school choice to all families," end of quote. DeVos's statement turned a well-known Trump slogan, and proclaimed, we will make American education great again. Proponents of school choice were ecstatic, including Sandy Kress, a top education adviser in George W. Bush's administration.

SANDY KRESS: I thought that's who the pick would be all along. She always made the most sense to me.

SANCHEZ: Kress says DeVos's record on school choice in Michigan sealed the deal. That's why Trump picked her. But putting $20 billion federal into school choice, like Trump promised during his campaign...

KRESS: Probably not, but by picking her, it is a way of his saying, I'm picking somebody who's been very active in this for a long time, and she reflects my view.

SANCHEZ: DeVos got a big thumbs up from the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools. Even Jeb Bush, who had some pretty nasty spats with Donald Trump during the Republican primaries, congratulated DeVos, calling her an outstanding pick. By the way, she's on the board of Bush's Foundation for Excellence in Education. For the nation's two biggest teacher's unions, DeVos's nomination is terrible news.

RANDI WEINGARTEN: My gut reaction was, oh, my God. We are now back into the education wars.

SANCHEZ: Randi Weingarten, head of the American Federation of Teachers, calls DeVos the most ideological, anti-public education nominee since the creation of the U.S. Department of Education nearly 40 years ago. Lily Eskelsen Garcia, head of the National Education Association, agrees.

LILY ESKELSEN GARCIA: There is no more staunch advocate for taking public dollars and giving them to private schools - private schools that can pick the students they want to teach - than Betsy DeVos.

SANCHEZ: Finally, there's the Common Core standards. Donald Trump hates the Common Core, created by governors and state education commissioners, and initially adopted by 45 states. DeVos has actually supported the Common Core until now. Shortly after her nomination was announced, DeVos tweeted, almost as if she had forgotten something important to say. And she said, I am not a supporter of the Common Core. Sandy Kress predicts that debate will die down soon enough.

KRESS: And then they're going to spend most of their time promoting choice.

SANCHEZ: And that will be DeVos' marching orders from day one. Claudio Sanchez, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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