DeVos, Elizabeth (1958- )

Betsy DeVos’s Schedule Shows Focus on Religious and Nontraditional Schools

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Then, that same day, there was a meeting with the South Carolina African American Chamber of Commerce, according to Ms. DeVos’s calendar, to discuss “her agenda for school choice and how we engage more African-American communities in that work to include charter schools.”

The appointment books also include discussions related to traditional public schools, such as a telephone call in February with Randi Weingarten, the president of the American Federation of Teachers, which represents 1.7 million public schoolteachers and other employees nationwide. Ms. Devos then had a follow-up visit in April with Ms. Weingarten to a public school in Ohio.

But the emphasis, a review of the calender shows, is on the same kinds of alternatives that Ms. DeVos promoted when she was a conservative philanthropist donating money to groups like Alliance for School Choice and the Foundation for Excellence in Education, which advocate school choice.

Nathan Bailey, a spokesman for Ms. DeVos, said she had met with a variety of players from the world of education, including state education chiefs, superintendents, principals and teachers.

“Secretary DeVos is focused on ensuring all students have equal access to a great education,” he said in a written statement, adding: “She has made no secret that giving parents more options is a critical way to help improve outcomes, and America’s families have been clear in their demands for more and better choices.”

The detailed calendar entries suggest Ms. DeVos remains closely involved with some of the people helping to lead or advise leaders in the school choice movement. Among them are Frank Luntz, the Republican pollster, whom Ms. DeVos was scheduled to meet on June 21 to discuss language she could use to promote school vouchers without generating as much resistance to the effort, according to the notes in her agenda.

“Frank has a 60 slide deck of the words to use and the words to lose regarding parental choice, vouchers, charter schools, teacher pay and all the other issues in education reform,” the notes say.

On July 10, Ms. DeVos met with a Republican state senator from Tennessee, Brian Kelsey, according to her calendar, to discuss the “federal government’s plans for school vouchers.” In her first weeks on the job, she also had a call with former Senator Phil Gramm, Republican of Texas. The topic was listed as “School Choice in Texas.”

According to the calendar, Ms. DeVos also met with Tim Keller and Richard Komer of the Institute for Justice, a conservative nonprofit that has joined lawsuits in Montana, Nevada and additional states to defend the ability of parents to use taxpayer-funded vouchers to cover tuition for their children to attend private religious schools. The goal of the meeting: “suggest a few areas where the Department could facilitate school choice efforts and offer the Sec. help in those areas.”

Document

This is the official calendar of Betsy DeVos, the education secretary, which covers her daily events from February until July, and includes some emails to provide background on her daily meetings.

OPEN Document

Mr. Komer said he has known Ms. DeVos for a decade and was glad to see her maintain her commitment to school choice.

“We would like to see them promote parent choice and parent power to choose,” Mr. Komer said of the 30-minute meeting he had with Ms. DeVos.

Her schedule also shows various appointments with representatives from the Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities, the American Association of Christian Schools and the Christian Academy for Reaching Excellence; with the education chairman from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops; and with officials from other religious groups.

Ms. Weingarten, the school union president, said in an interview on Thursday that Ms. DeVos’s calendar was a case study in her priorities.

“She has very much undermined public schooling, which 90 percent of children in America attend and which is the foundation to America’s democracy,” Ms. Weingarten said.

The daily log of Ms. DeVos’s activity since February, when she was confirmed by the Senate, also shows extensive travel. Ms. DeVos has said she pays for the trips herself since she typically goes on a privately owned plane.

Liz Hill, a spokeswoman for the Education Department, said that Ms. DeVos “travels on personally owned aircraft, accompanied by her security detail and whenever possible, additional support staff” without charging the government. In addition, Ms. Hill said, Ms. DeVos also does not accept reimbursement for lodging or other travel-related costs.

An examination of Ms. DeVos’s calendar shows that she frequently leaves Washington on what appear to be long weekends, as her work calendar indicates no appointments on certain Fridays or Mondays surrounding these trips to destinations that have included Vero Beach, Fla., Aspen, Colo., and Grand Rapids, Mich. All are places where Ms. DeVos or a member of her family owns a home.

The records show that Ms. DeVos took long weekends on at least 11 occasions, meaning that her work calendar indicates no appointments on at least one workday around the weekend.

On Friday, March 3, for example, the records show that Ms. DeVos went to Aspen — where her family owns a ski-in, ski-out home in Snowmass Village — and that she did not return to the office, or have any work appointments, until Tuesday, March 7.

She then left on March 8, for Sea Island, Ga., where she attended an American Enterprise Institute World Forum, with her calendar showing that she did not return to the office for work appointments until Monday, March 13.

On Thursday, March 30, Ms. DeVos’s calendar shows that she left her office at 3 p.m. for Ronald Reagan National Airport near Washington on her way to Vero Beach, where she and her husband, Dick DeVos, have a home.

Austin Evers, a State Department lawyer during the Obama administration who now serves as the executive director of a liberal nonprofit group, American Oversight, which sued the Education Department for the records and provided a copy of them to The New York Times, said Ms. DeVos’s frequent days out of the office with no appointments on her calendar amounted to “truancy.”

Nathan Bailey, a spokesman for Ms. DeVos, called the analysis of Ms. DeVos’s days away from Washington with no appointments “fatally flawed.” The entries, he said, only reflect formal appointments. Ms. DeVos is routinely working, he said, even if nothing is listed on her work calendar.

“Secretary DeVos isn’t a creature of Washington and prefers to spend her time in communities across the country with America’s students, parents and educators,” Mr. Bailey said in a statement. “She travels often to make that possible, and she travels at no expense to taxpayers.”

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Wendy Pettit

Wendy Pettit is a writer for NYT and writes for other publications on her spare time. She lives in Chicago with her husband and her dog Zuko.

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