Teacher's union leader: DeVos is 'a cautionary tale' of presidential impact on public education

The president of one of the largest teacher’s unions in the country on Monday said that even though she thinks Education Secretary Betsy DeVosElizabeth (Betsy) Dee DeVosSpecial counsel investigating DeVos for potential Hatch Act violation: report NEA president says Azar and DeVos should resign over school reopening guidance The Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by Facebook - You might want to download TikTok now MORE has continued to target public schools, she credits the backlash for DeVos's appointment for helping to highlight national concerns over public education.

“We have really one person to thank for lifting that up,” National Education Association (NEA) President Lily Eskelsen García said, referring to public education.

“So I want to give a shout out to Betsy DeVos for showing us the cautionary tale of what happens when you get a president who puts someone as the secretary of Education,” she added. “She’s never stepped in a public school before she was sworn in.”

García added that she thought DeVos has done more harm than good, accusing the education secretary of having "abandoned public schools." 

"A lot of folks like Betsy DeVos who have abandoned public schools ... They don’t want to see improvements in public schools, it works to their agenda to underfund them and to make them joyless, horrible places," she said. "We aren’t going to let that happen. We’re going to stick around in those schools no matter what."

Department of Education press secretary Angela Morabito pushed back against García comments, saying that DeVos wants to "see education improve for all students." She also maintained that DeVos's has spent much of her career volunteering in the public school system and that her education plan would "not divert a single penny away" from it.

"Secretary DeVos has said repeatedly that Education Freedom is not about elevating one kind of school over another — it’s about trusting individuals to pursue the educational options that best suit them," Morabito wrote in a statement. 

DeVos, who has regularly championed charter schools, has recently come under intense scrutiny from congressional Democrats, especially when it comes to her handling of students who claim they were defrauded by for-profit colleges. During a tense hearing last week, Rep. Frederica WilsonFrederica Patricia WilsonHarris calls it 'outrageous' Trump downplayed coronavirus House passes bill establishing commission to study racial disparities affecting Black men, boys Florida county official apologizes for social media post invoking Hitler  MORE (D-Fla.) rebuked DeVos as "out to destroy public education." 

Over the course of her tenure, DeVos has rolled back on a number of Obama-era education policies, including on student loan debt. This has created a backlog of more than 210,000 claims from students who say they were lied to about their job prospects and credits. Devos, meanwhile, has defended her handling of the department, saying relief should only be given to those who can prove they were financially harmed by these institutions. 

The NEA represents nearly 3 million school educators across the country. Like many teacher's union groups, it has yet to formally endorse a 2020 White House candidate.

Though many decisions are made on a state and local level, García maintained that education is fundamentally a presidential issue, which she says was highlighted in Saturday's 2020 public education forum in Pittsburgh.

The event featured former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenPelosi slams Trump executive order on pre-existing conditions: It 'isn't worth the paper it's signed on' Hillicon Valley: Subpoenas for Facebook, Google and Twitter on the cards | Wray rebuffs mail-in voting conspiracies | Reps. raise mass surveillance concerns Fox News poll: Biden ahead of Trump in Nevada, Pennsylvania and Ohio MORE, billionaire Tom SteyerTom SteyerTV ads favored Biden 2-1 in past month Inslee calls Biden climate plan 'perfect for the moment' OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Trump administration finalizes plan to open up Alaska wildlife refuge to drilling | California finalizes fuel efficiency deal with five automakers, undercutting Trump | Democrats use vulnerable GOP senators to get rare win on environment MORE, South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete ButtigiegPete ButtigiegBillionaire who donated to Trump in 2016 donates to Biden The Hill's Morning Report - Sponsored by Facebook - GOP closes ranks to fill SCOTUS vacancy by November Buttigieg stands in as Pence for Harris's debate practice MORE and Sens. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth WarrenHillicon Valley: Subpoenas for Facebook, Google and Twitter on the cards | Wray rebuffs mail-in voting conspiracies | Reps. raise mass surveillance concerns On The Money: Anxious Democrats push for vote on COVID-19 aid | Pelosi, Mnuchin ready to restart talks | Weekly jobless claims increase | Senate treads close to shutdown deadline Democratic senators ask inspector general to investigate IRS use of location tracking service MORE (D-Mass.) and Bernie SandersBernie SandersThe Hill's Campaign Report: Trump faces backlash after not committing to peaceful transition of power Bernie Sanders: 'This is an election between Donald Trump and democracy' The Hill's 12:30 Report: Trump stokes fears over November election outcome MORE, (I-Vt.) Amy KlobucharAmy Klobuchar3 reasons why Biden is misreading the politics of court packing Social media platforms put muscle into National Voter Registration Day Battle lines drawn on precedent in Supreme Court fight MORE (D-Minn.) and Michael BennetMichael Farrand BennetOVERNIGHT ENERGY: House Democrats tee up vote on climate-focused energy bill next week | EPA reappoints controversial leader to air quality advisory committee | Coronavirus creates delay in Pentagon research for alternative to 'forever chemicals' Senate Democrats demand White House fire controversial head of public lands agency Next crisis, keep people working and give them raises MORE (D-Colo.). Sen. Cory BookerCory Anthony Booker3 reasons why Biden is misreading the politics of court packing Bipartisan praise pours in after Ginsburg's death DHS opens probe into allegations at Georgia ICE facility MORE (D-N.J.) planned to participate but was unable to attend after coming down with the flu.

The seven candidates fielded questions on everything from teacher pay to charter schools and segregation.

García, who was in attendance at the event, said some of the toughest questions came from the young students in the crowd. 

“There was a little girl there who couldn’t have been more than 12 years old, saying ‘I know what schools look like in some of our richest neighborhoods. I don’t live in one of those neighborhoods and I’m not looking for a way to escape my public school, I want to know why my public school doesn’t look like those public schools.'"

She said the forum was fruitful, emphasizing that she hopes teachers will be seen as part of the solution to fixing the public education system in the United States. 

"We believed [the candidates] left learning something," she said. "They let us teach something." 

— Tess Bonn. Updated Tuesday at 10:48 a.m.