American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten attacked Betsy DeVos in recent remarks, questioning the secretary of education's motives and saying she "demonizes" and "demagogues" teachers unions.
"In her heart, [DeVos] doesn’t care about children," Weingarten said. "She is an adversary. She demonizes us, she demagogues us, but she does it while smiling. That’s part of why I find her so dislikeable — don’t smile at somebody and then put a knife in their back. That’s what she’s doing."
Weingarten's comments emerged in a Buzzfeed News report this week about a division among Democrats on the issue of charter schools and school choice. Unions and advocacy groups who oppose charter schools believe the next two years could be a "tipping point" for their cause, according to Buzzfeed. They plan to push candidates to come out against charter schools and the expansion private school vouchers despite the fact many Democrats have supported the measures in the past.
Teachers unions have stood in opposition to DeVos since she was announced as President Donald Trump's choice to lead the department. Many union activists oppose DeVos' efforts to deteriorate a "big government approach" to education and to ultimately give states and local school districts regulator power.
In May 2017, Devos told the American Federation for Children that "When it comes to education, no solution, not even ones we like, should be dictated or run from Washington, D.C."
"We should have zero interest in substituting the current big government approach for our own big-government approach," Devos said. "When it comes to education, no solution, not even ones we like, should be dictated or run from Washington, D.C."
A school choice advocacy group official indicated the stark opposition to the programs has been driven by opposition to the Trump administration.
"The president is so wildly unpopular among Democrats that his support for some of these policies — which we’ve been working on for literally decades — had made the politics of supporting school choice much harder than it needs to be," said Derrell Bradford, the vice president of 50Can. "The politics of it are unfortunate."
Weingarten blamed the administration for the "fierce" feelings that have manifested about public education.
Trump and DeVos "have made the choices very stark," Weingarten said. "They’ve made this a ‘whose side are you on’ moment for us. The public has never been so fierce about public education — I have not seen this in decades."
Former Democratic Presidents Barack Obama and Bill Clinton are both advocates for charter schools and school choice.