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After 6 months, education chief still highly divisive

After 6 months, education chief still highly divisive

August 13th, 2017 in National News

In this Aug. 9, 2017, photo, a framed reproduction of the roll call vote in Congress to approve Betsy DeVos as education secretary hangs on a wall in her office at the Education Department in Washington. It’s been six months since her bruising Senate confirmation battle, and DeVos remains highly divisive. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

WASHINGTON (AP) — Among the paintings and photographs that decorate Education Secretary Betsy DeVos' sunlit, spacious office is the framed roll call from her Senate confirmation. It's a stark reminder of the bruising process that spurred angry protests, some ridicule and required the vice president's tie-breaking "yes" vote.

Six months on the job, DeVos is no less divisive.

Critics see her as hostile to public education and indifferent to civil rights, citing her impassioned push for school choice and her signing off on the repeal of some protections for LGBT students.

Conservatives wish she had been less polarizing and more effective in promoting her agenda, noting the department's budget requests are stalled in Congress and no tangible school choice plan has emerged.

DeVos is undeterred.

"We have seen decades of top-down mandated approaches that protect a system at the expense of individual students," DeVos told the Associated Press. "I am for individual students. I want each of them to have an opportunity to go to a school that works for them."

In her first comprehensive sit-down interview with a national media outlet since taking office, DeVos touched on some of the most pressing issues in K-12 and higher education.

She said Washington has a role to "set a tone" and encourage states to adopt choice programs without enacting "a big new federal program that's going to require a lot of administration." At the same time, she confirmed that a federal tax-credit voucher program was under consideration as part of a tax overhaul. "It's certainly part of our discussion," DeVos said.

DeVos, 59, appeared confident, but reserved during the 30-minute interview last week in her office, where photographs of her children and grandchildren and drawings and letters from young students are prominent. Large windows overlook the Capitol. Across the street, visitors lined up outside the National Air and Space Museum, which DeVos toured this year with Ivanka Trump to promote science and engineering among girls.

DeVos defended her decision to rewrite Obama-era rules intended to protect students against being deceived by vocational nondegree programs, saying "the last administration really stepped much more heavily into areas that it should not."

Liberals accuse DeVos of looking out for the interests of for-profit schools, and they point to Trump University, the president's for-profit school that was sued for fraud. Supporters said the Obama regulations unfairly targeted for-profits and failed to track students' long-term careers.

The decision by the departments of Education and Justice to roll back rules allowing transgender students to use school restrooms of their choice enraged civil rights advocates, who said already vulnerable children could face even more harassment and bullying. Conservatives saw DeVos fulfilling a promise to return control over education issues to states, cities, school districts and parents.

"We really believe that states are the best laboratories of democracy on many fronts," DeVos said.