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Betsy DeVos invited to Spokane by ESD superintendent

Feb. 9, 2017 Updated Thu., Feb. 9, 2017 at 10:40 p.m.

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos addresses Education Department staff, Wednesday, Feb. 8, 2017, at the Education Department in Washington. (Molly Riley / AP)
Education Secretary Betsy DeVos addresses Education Department staff, Wednesday, Feb. 8, 2017, at the Education Department in Washington. (Molly Riley / AP)

A top public education leader in Spokane has invited newly confirmed Education Secretary Betsy DeVos to visit the city and learn about “our ongoing hard work and abiding commitment to excellence for each of the young people we are privileged to serve.”

Michael Dunn, superintendent of Educational Service District 101, sent DeVos the invitation in an open letter Wednesday.

“My fear is that her direct knowledge of public education is not as deep as I hope for a secretary of education,” he said in an interview Thursday.

In the letter, Dunn wrote: “Accurate or not, it seems evident that your view of the QUALITY of education in our nation is not particularly positive, and it also seems clear that your direct experience with and connection to public education is somewhat limited.”

Dunn, a 38-year veteran of public education, acknowledges that the letter could be controversial.

“People can see this as a political statement,” Dunn said. “Frankly, I see it as an opportunity to educate.”

Educational Service District 101, which covers Adams, Ferry, Lincoln, Pend Oreille, Spokane, Stevens and Whitman counties, supports 59 public school districts and 46 state-approved private schools. Its headquarters are in Spokane.

Although the federal government only funds about 10 percent of education spending, the Education Department has taken a larger role in state education in recent years. Dunn said that Arne Duncan, President Obama’s secretary of education, had a very particular agenda, one that “impacted us.”

“I honestly believe that public education is fundamental to a working democracy, and I don’t want to see it undermined,” he said.

DeVos, a billionaire philanthropist, is well-known for her support of charter schools and private school vouchers. She was narrowly confirmed as President Donald Trump’s secretary of education by the Senate on Tuesday.

Dunn sent the letter to DeVos Wednesday morning. He received a response Thursday morning, stating that the letter had been forwarded to DeVos’ scheduling staff for review.

“I feel pretty strongly in the work that is being done (here),” Dunn said.

Deana Brower, president of the board of directors for Spokane Public Schools, said generally district administrators shy away from making political statements.

“We have to work with state and federal administrators,” she said. “Making political statements that create barriers does not serve our students well.”

A larger problem is what Brower calls the politicization of education. When policies change every four years, it makes continuity difficult.

“We really need some stability for our kids,” she said, adding later, “I think the Every Student Succeeds Act has such great potential. And there are several components of it I am excited about that I would hate to see go away.”

Specifically, Brower liked the reduction of assessment testing in ESSA and that the act gives states more control over implementation than officials previously had.

However, she said if DeVos did choose to visit Spokane she’d be happy to give the Cabinet official a tour of the district to “see the good work going on every day and see our challenges.”

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