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U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos cancels tour of Ontario schools

In this Sept. 7, 2017, file photo, U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos speaks at George Mason University Arlington, Va., campus.

Jacquelyn Martin/THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos has cancelled a trip to tour Ontario's schools – a planned visit that had drawn protests from teacher unions who accused her of favouring private schools instead of a publicly funded education system.

A spokesman for Education Minister Mitzie Hunter said on Wednesday that the government received word from Ms. DeVos's office in Washington that she was cancelling her trip because of "scheduling conflicts." Ms. DeVos's itinerary had her coming to Ontario on a "study visit" Thursday and Friday.

"We look forward to welcoming Secretary DeVos at a more convenient time to showcase our world-class, publicly funded education system," Richard Francella said.

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The U.S. Department of Education said in a statement that the trip has been postponed because of "last-minute scheduling issues that arose on both sides."

There had been a reluctance among public-school officials in Ontario to welcome Ms. DeVos, a polarizing figure who many in education circles see as the centre of a movement to use public dollars to pay for tuition at private and religious schools. Ms. DeVos has been accused by the president of the American Federation of Teachers as the "most anti-public education secretary of education ever" and of wanting to "destabilize and privatize" public schools.

It remained unclear which schools she would be visiting. Several school boards contacted by The Globe and Mail, including in Toronto, York, Peel and Dufferin, said she was not visiting their schools.

Harvey Bischof, president of the Ontario Secondary School Teachers' Federation, said he was pleased to learn that Ms. DeVos was not coming to Ontario.

After The Globe first reported on her visit earlier this week, Mr. Bischof said in a statement that it was "alarming" the provincial government would allow her to tour Ontario schools.

"I couldn't be more pleased that it's cancelled," he said on Wednesday. "She simply attracts attention to ideas that are of no value in the Ontario education system."

Sam Hammond, president of the Elementary Teachers' Federation of Ontario, added: "If you support an inclusive, equitable, not-for-profit, publicly funded public education system, this is good news."

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NDP education critic Peggy Sattler raised Ms. DeVos's visit in Queen's Park this week. "Why is this government giving a platform to someone who believes that government should be spending less, not more, on public education?" she asked during Question Period.

Ms. DeVos once referred to America's public education system as a "dead end," according to the Washington Post.

Ms. DeVos, a billionaire, has used her financial means to support efforts to expand school choice, and the Trump administration has made it a priority. Critics say it amounts to privatizing public education. School choice means that students have options other than their local public schools, such as private and religious schools, and can attend using public funds in the form of vouchers and similar programs.

Ms. DeVos has said that public money should be invested in individual children.

But public-school advocates say it erodes the publicly funded system because wealthier and mainly white families leave their local public schools to move into largely unaccountable private schools or to schools in mostly white communities. They also argue that it leaves low-income minority students in even more racially segregated schools.

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About the Author
Education Reporter

Caroline Alphonso is an education reporter for The Globe and Mail. More

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