VAN WERT, Ohio — Barely a hint of the biting rhetoric lobbed at U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos by teachers’ unions and other public school advocates surfaced Thursday as she toured Van Wert City Schools alongside an ardent critic.
President Trump’s cabinet pick, controversial among many public school educators for her charter school support, spent several amicable hours in this rural northwest Ohio district with Randi Weingarten, president of the 1.6 million-member American Federation of Teachers.
The two disagree on school choice and the big cuts proposed in the federal education budget, but they found common ground in praising the 2,200-student Van Wert school system.
IN PICTURES: Betsy DeVos visits Van Wert for school tour
“It’s been a very inspiring and wonderful day,” Ms. DeVos said at a news conference after hours of touring schools and classrooms. “It is clear that this community has invested heart and soul into the students here and the students that you serve.”
Ms. Weingarten previously has blasted the secretary for her “reckless and extreme ideology” and her lack of public education experience.
On Thursday, she acknowledged their roles as “combatants” and glanced at Ms. DeVos while mentioning the proposed federal budget, which would cut $9 billion in discretionary education funding while spending an additional $1.4 billion on school-choice programs.
Their conversation was cordial, collegial even, though they didn’t walk away in agreement.
The union chief focused on public education in places such as Van Wert, a conservative county-seat community about 95 miles southwest of Toledo.
“Van Wert proves that support for public schools transcends politics and probably that is one of the most important lessons. The more we can make the education of our children all of our responsibility regardless of whether we’re Democratic or Republican, the more we will help the future of America,” Ms. Weingarten said.
In the high school parking lot, students greeted the Republican secretary by parking about eight pickup trucks in a row to display a large Trump banner and numerous American flags. President Trump received more than 70 percent of the votes in Van Wert County in the November election.
This unusual meeting in an unexpected place occurred at the invitation of the Van Wert Federation of Teachers president. Jeff Hood, a long-time health…