TORONTO — U.S. President Donald Trump's education secretary, who holds controversial views on publicly funded education, is set to visit Ontario to learn about its public school system.
Ontario government officials confirmed Betsy DeVos' trip is taking place but wouldn't provide details. U.S. embassy officials provided few specifics, except to say DeVos' visit is on Thursday and Friday and involves a study tour to Toronto "to examine best practices in Ontario's education system."
"Secretary DeVos plans to engage with Ministry of Education officials from Ontario and other provinces, visit local schools, and learn about U.S. Consulate support for U.S.-Canada higher education linkages," spokesman Joseph Crook said in a statement.
Ontario minister touts full-day kindergarten
The province often welcomes international delegations who come to look at its publicly funded education system, said Ontario Education Minister Mitzie Hunter.
"We're very proud of our education system in Ontario and we welcome international delegations who come here to learn from us and to really meet our great teachers and educators in our system," she said.
When asked what lessons the American school system can learn from Ontario, Hunter cited full-day kindergarten, graduation rates, specialist high skills major programs — such as agriculture, construction and forestry — and inclusive education.
DeVos' department of education rolled back rules allowing transgender students to use school restrooms of their choice this year. She has also attracted protests recently for revoking a guidance that instructed colleges on how to handle sexual assault cases, saying the previous policy was unfairly skewed against those accused of assault.
But much of the criticism directed at DeVos has focused on her positions on public schools, with critics saying she prioritizes the needs of private schools.
She advocates for school choice, which includes vouchers that allow kids to attend charter schools — which are publicly funded but privately operated — or private schools on the public dime.
Ontario teachers' organizations and unions expressed disappointment at news of the visit.
"DeVos represents everything a public education advocate opposes," Ontario Teachers' Federation president Chris Cowley wrote on Twitter. "She should keep her backwards ideas out of Ontario."
DeVos represents everything a public education advocate opposes. She should keep her backwards ideas out of Ontario. https://t.co/g0SOEiBadC— Chris Cowley (@OTFpresFEO) October 2, 2017
The head of the Ontario Secondary School Teachers' Federation said in a statement that he is "extremely concerned" about plans to allow DeVos to visit Ontario schools.
"Ms. DeVos is a vocal proponent of programs that divert government funding away from public education and into private hands, to pay for tuition at private and religious schools," Harvey Bischof wrote in a statement.
"The Ministry of Education should reconsider this visit and send a strong, clear message to Ms. DeVos and other proponents of privatization that public education in Ontario is not for sale."