Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, on a tour of the West Coast this week, pushed for school choice and her vision of education reform at a fundraising dinner in Bellevue on Friday night.
"You know my job is in a place called Washington, but please know that I prefer to be in this Washington," DeVos opened, adding that her son-in-law is from Mukilteo.
Secretary DeVos also mentioned following Washington's fight over charter schools, the source of a legal fight that made it all the way up to the State Supreme Court.
“There are still too many kids, way too many kids, that are trapped in a school that doesn’t meet their needs,” DeVos said. “There are too many parents that are denied the fundamental right to decide the best way to educate their child.”
Secretary DeVos spoke before a crowd of 1,500 at The Washington Policy Center's annual dinner. The group describes itself as a free-market think tank and stronger supporter of school choice.
"I wholeheartedly believe that real choice cannot be accomplished through a one size fits all mandate at the federal level," DeVos said eliciting applause from the crowd.
"Now that may sound counter intuitive to some, coming from the U.S. Secretary of Education, but after eight months in D.C. and three decades of working in states, I know if Congress tries to mandate choice, I know all we’ll end up with is a mountain of mediocrity, a surge of spending and a bloat of bureaucracy to go along with it."
"I am deeply concerned about what she's using her department to do that undermines basic education protections for students," said Washington Senator Patty Murray, the top Democrat on the Senate Health and Education Committee.
Senator Murray remains a harsh critic of Secretary DeVos, who was met by large crowds of protestors outside of the Bellevue Hyatt; one demonstration included Attorney General Bob Ferguson and King County Executive Dow Constantine.
Critics of the controversial Education Secretary fear her support of charter schools and vouchers threaten the nation's public education system. Her Department has also come under harsh criticism for new guidance, changing Obama era Title IX policies and allowing universities to modify the standard of evidence in campus sexual assault cases.
"I wish she'd sit down with students I've sat down with from college campuses all over Washington state who have been victims of sexual assault to hear what really happens to them," said Senator Murray.
The administration has defended the move as a matter of due process.
However, the focus on Friday both inside the event and outside centered around the school choice debate.
"I don't see anything wrong with someone supporting a parent's right to say this is what works for my child," said charter school mom Ami Lara who introduced DeVos.
Lara, a Democrat, who says she's held more than 100 meetings with lawmakers to advocate for school choice, said, for her, the issue isn't about politics.
"There is a need for change. There is a need for fixing this broken system. We need to work together to do that," continued Lara.
Secretary DeVos credited parents for driving a growing school choice movement, arguing that she would like to assist states who are working to further empower parents.
"There isn’t a cure all, there is no one size fits all solution. Individual solutions will be found in states and local communities led my families."
"Our children’s futures should not be a partisan issue," said DeVos.