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Trump: School chief DeVos faced ‘very unfair trial’

Detroit News staff and wire

Washington — President Donald Trump said Tuesday America’s children will be the winners with Michigan’s Betsy DeVos as education secretary, labeling her history-setting confirmation last week as “a very unfair trial.”

Trump congratulated DeVos, seated to his left, at a White House “listening session” with public and private school teachers, and others who home-school their children. A week ago DeVos became the nation’s 11th secretary of education after Vice President Mike Pence cast a tie-breaking vote in Senate, completing a bruising confirmation that showed her education policy reforms will face resistance.

DeVos is a billionaire Republican who has promoted charter and private schools as a way to help low-income children, especially minorities. Critics led by teachers unions opposed her nomination by arguing that she lacks any experience in public education and is ill-equipped to help the majority of the country’s students.

Trump repeatedly praised DeVos, saying she went through a “very tough trial and a very unfair trial” and won. He then argued for an education agenda that includes expanded school choices for students to help “climb the ladders of success.”

“Millions of poor disadvantaged students are trapped in failing schools...,” Trump said according to a pool report. “That’s why I want every single disadvantaged child in America, no matter what their background or where they live, to have a choice about where they go to school.”

DeVos, who has vowed to improve public schools, also emphasized finding ways to expand school choices for families.

“I’m really excited to be here today with parents and educators, representing traditional public schools, charter public schools, home schools, private schools -- a range of choices,” she said. “And we're eager to listen and learn from you, your ideas for how we can ensure that all of our kids have an equal opportunity for a high quality, great education.”

During the meeting, Trump said he wants to know what’s going on with the “tremendous amount of increase” in autism rates. The comment came after the principal of a Northern Virginia special education center said her school had shifted its population to accommodate more students with autism.

Trump told her “maybe we can do something.”

The principal said that 1 in 66 kids are diagnosed with autism, figures that are in line with the most recent government report on the issue. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported last March that about 1 in 68 school-aged children have autism or related disorders — about the same as in 2014.

Others at the listening session were Pence and aides Kellyanne Conway and Stephen Miller.