The nation’s top education official was at Koch Industries in Wichita on Monday, Oct. 1, in a visit that was not announced to local school district leaders or media.
U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos met with “a small group” of teachers, students and representatives of Youth Entrepreneurs, a Wichita-based non-profit group founded by Charles and Liz Koch, said an official with the organization.
“Our Youth Entrepreneurs team was asked to host Secretary DeVos and explain the impact on more than 30,000 alumni since the start of our program,” said Lois Hairston, communications manager for Youth Entrepreneurs in an e-mailed statement.
Hairston did not say how many people attended the meeting or whether DeVos visited any local schools or other sites.
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“We do not know the details of the Secretary’s visit,” she said in an e-mail.
Neither Youth Entrepreneurs nor the U.S. Department of Education issued a news release about the event.
The secretary’s online schedule noted “no public events” on Monday or Tuesday.
Wendy Johnson, spokeswoman for Wichita public schools, said neither Superintendent Alicia Thompson nor other district officials were told about DeVos’s visit. Officials with public school districts in Maize, Derby, Goddard, Andover and Valley Center also said they didn’t know the secretary was in town.
John Burke, superintendent of Haysville schools, said a Campus High School teacher e-mailed him on Sunday to tell him that the teacher and several students were “going to get to meet Betsy DeVos.”
“And I thought, well, that’s pretty cool,” Burke said.
The teacher, Zac Kliewer, tweeted a photo Monday of himself and three students with DeVos and Liz Koch, chairwoman of the Youth Entrepreneurs board of directors.
“Extremely honored for my students and I to be invited to meet and talk to @BetsyDeVos about YE,” tweeted Kliewer, who advises the Youth Entrepreneurs chapter at Campus High. The location stamp on the tweet was Koch Industries.
After a reporter contacted Kliewer seeking information about DeVos’s visit, “He got a call from somebody with the Kochs, and they said, ‘We would prefer not to have any media coverage,’” Burke said.
Asked what he thought about DeVos’s private visit to Wichita, Burke, the Haysville superintendent, said, “It was a really interesting thing, obviously, for our students and the teacher. If anything, I suppose she got to see that public schools are doing some pretty cool stuff.”
DeVos, one of President Trump’s most controversial cabinet appointments, was confirmed in February 2017 after Vice President Mike Pence broke a 50-50 vote in the Senate.
Critics complained about her lack of experience with public schools and her support for school choice initiatives such as vouchers and charter schools. DeVos, a member of one of Michigan’s wealthiest families, has donated millions to Koch-backed Americans for Prosperity and other conservative organizations.
Since taking office, many of DeVos’s public appearances have been met with protests from educators and others who oppose the secretary’s stances. Her visit last fall to Kansas City Academy, a private middle and high school in Kansas City, Mo., drew about 150 protesters.
On Wednesday DeVos launched a four-state “Rethink School” tour, which included visits to the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta; the U.S. Space & Rocket Center in Huntsville, Alabama; Holmes County Central High School in Lexington, Mississippi; and Edward Hynes Charter School in New Orleans.