Protesters representing grassroots anti-Trump groups took a corner of the parking lot at Van Wert Middle School Thursday during a visit by United States Department of Education Director Betsy DeVos. (DHI Media/Nancy Spencer)
Protesters representing grassroots anti-Trump groups took a corner of the parking lot at Van Wert Middle School Thursday during a visit by United States Department of Education Director Betsy DeVos. (DHI Media/Nancy Spencer)

VAN WERT — More than a dozen peaceful protesters from Northwest Ohio gathered in the parking lot at Van Wert Middle School prior to United States Department of Education Director Betsy DeVos’s arrival Thursday morning. The group included members of the Van Wert County Democratic Party and Ohio Indivisible District 5 and other grassroots anti-Trump entitities.

Their signs supported public education and denounced recent funding cuts to the public sector and increases to school choice or private schools.

“Nearly all students in Van Wert County attend public school,” protester Gay Garman said. “When they take away funding from public schools and give it to the private schools, the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. Again, the small people are getting the shaft and the 1 percent are benefiting.”

The Trump administration’s new budget released in mid-March, slashes funding for the Education Department by 13.5 percent, or $9.2 billion. Under the new budget, the Trump administration wants to spend $1.4 billion to expand vouchers in public and private schools, leading up to an eventual $20 billion a year in funding. About $250 million of these funds will go toward a private school-choice program, while $168 million will be set aside for charter schools. An additional $1 billion would go toward Title I, a program for disadvantaged students whose current structure is opposed by many lawmakers.

Trump’s budget plan would remove $2.4 billion in grants for teacher training and $1.2 billion in funding for summer- and after-school programs.

The protesters came from Van Wert, Wood, Mercer and Hancock counties with representation from bigger and smaller municipalities.

Van Wert resident Dan Miller would have liked to share his views with DeVos.

“I would tell Betsy that Ohio has been a petri dish for school choice policy and it hasn’t gone nearly as well as planned or they would have you believe it is going. She just needs to look at the facts,” Miller said. “There aren’t even any private schools in Van Wert County so our money that is diverted to school choice is going out of the county and even the state. We need our money to go to our schools for our students.”

Public schools are held to rigorous state standards and testing. The group cited accountability and oversight as problems with School Choice.

“Private schools schools are not assessed or held accountable like the public schools are,” Miller added. “Her solution to the education issue is more for urban areas, not rural Ohio. Our public schools are the heart or our communities. They bring everyone together for events and activities.”

The protest also became a teaching moment for students in Jeff Kallus’s government/current events class. Student Nathan Murphy agreed with some of what DeVos has been saying about public education.

“If a public school is failing, a student should have the right to go to a better school,” Murphy said. “However, if a school is doing well and is successful and shows it is providing a good education, the money shouldn’t be taken away.”

Murphy was glad DeVos was visiting his school and seeing public education firsthand.

“I think DeVos needs to educate herself on what public schools do and provide for their students and community and she seems to lack knowledge on a lot of the laws governing public education,” Murphy said. “Hopefully she’ll learn something here today, too.”