WASHINGTON (AP) — A senior presidential aide said Wednesday that American families should have various school options for their children, including private schools.
Jason Botel, Donald Trump's education adviser, told a National PTA conference that some children may not thrive in traditional public or charter schools and should have an opportunity to attend private schools.
"We need an education landscape that offers high quality options to all students and parents," Botel told the conference.
Botel, who has worked in both traditional public and charter schools, told the story of some of his students who were only able to succeed academically after going to private schools. "We are committed to ensuring that students and parents of all backgrounds for whom public school may not be the best option have access to high quality private schools," he added.
Botel's message highlighted the focus of the Trump administration on school choice. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos is a longtime charter school advocate, and Trump recently visited a small, private Catholic school in Florida to promote private-school voucher programs. The administration has talked about expanding voucher programs, which are publicly funded scholarships for low-income families to attend private schools, and tax credits to give more children access to private schools.
Some in the audience did not appreciate the message.
"Our stance is that public money should not go to funding private education," said Rebecca Gawsyszawski with the Ohio PTA. "It's part of our democracy that every child should be allowed free public education."
But Cindy Gerhardt, president of the Florida PTA, said she was inspired by Botel's background and his understanding of both traditional schools and other school options.
"His history and his career ... makes me feel more confident in his ability to direct the conversation in his position because of his history of knowing PTA and knowing what we stand for and being a part of that and being an educator as well," Gerhardt said.
Shannon Sevier, vice President of advocacy for National PTA, was skeptical of Botel's agenda.
"PTA is not for private schools that would marginalize students, that would divert funds from public schools, that would remove private liberties from students, that would not have accountability or transparency," Sevier said. "So if he's got a model that doesn't do that and he will show it to us, I am most interested in seeing it."
In the end, Sevier said, PTA is ready to wait for political winds to change.
"Political climate changes and we are strong enough and we have the longevity to outlast a four or an eight-year term," she said.