Education Secretary Betsy DeVos was met by hundreds of protesters in Denver on Thursday, where she spoke at the annual meeting of the American Legislative Exchange Council, or ALEC.
Demonstrations outside the Hyatt Regency included teachers and parents who disapprove of DeVos's agenda, particularly voucher programs (also known by the innocuous-sounding term "school choice"), a pet cause of ALEC, as well as for-profit education companies.
School voucher programs take money that would otherwise go to public schools and distribute it to parents who want their children to go to private or parochial schools.
As one of the nation's top-ranking advocates for voucher programs, DeVos said at ALEC's meeting, "Now, let's be clear: providing more educational options isn't against public schools. It's actually not against anything. School choice is about recognizing parents' inherent right to choose what is best for their children. That's the manifestation of expanding human liberty in America."
Opponents say the government should invest in the public school system, that vouchers weaken schools, and that using federal funds to send a child to a religious school is a violation of the First Amendment.
"Betsy DeVos will be in town plotting with ALEC to dismantle public institutions that support opportunity for Colorado students, educators and families," said Christina Medina of Denver Classroom Teachers Association, ahead of the protest. "Our Secretary of Education should be someone who will advocate for students with great needs in marginalized communities, not someone who schemes with wealthy corporations to benefit the chosen few and while expecting the rest of us to take what we're given."
ALEC, whose membership includes right-wing state legislators and private sector representatives who draft legislation alongside the lawmakers, is a longtime proponent of vouchers, having drafted the original school choice bill in 1984.
In addition to school choice, DeVos and ALEC appear to see eye-to-eye on a number of education issues. As Brett Robertson wrote at Media Matters:
DeVos has also delayed the implementation of two measures designed to deter for-profit colleges from defrauding and impoverishing students. This delay has prevented victimized students from getting debt relief, but may help buoy the financial stability of ALEC-affiliated for-profit college corporations. DeVos and ALEC are both in favor of expanding online for-profit charter schools, which have a dismal record of academic performance but are extremely profitable.
DeVos's ties to ALEC go beyond her worldview. As NPR reported, "The organization she founded and led, the American Federation for Children, has long been listed as a financial contributor to ALEC." DeVos and her husband also own stock in K12, Inc., a for-profit online education company run by one of ALEC's directors.