MANASSAS, Virginia — Education Secretary Betsy DeVos on Tuesday highlighted the need to help the children of military families transition into new schools as their parents are moving from one assignment to the next.
DeVos visited Ashland Elementary School in Manassas, Virginia, to mark the Month of the Military Child. During a tour of the school she read a book to children about a mother who serves in the military. She donned a pair of toy bifocals like those invented by Benjamin Franklin and watched students refurbish a computer.
During the election campaign, President Donald Trump criticized the Obama administration for neglecting U.S. veterans and vowed to improve their care and benefits. DeVos' visit to Ashland highlighted the administration's commitment to veterans.
DeVos said military families need extra support when they relocate to a different city or country and their children must enroll in a new school. The school offers video chats with deployed parents, support groups and community resources.
DeVos praised "the way in which this community has cared for these children who are so often transitioning from school to school and from locale to locale."
School principal Andy Jacks said parents who are stationed overseas or away from their families need to be certain that their children are doing well in school.
"While they are serving our country and protecting us, we have to be behind them, supporting them all the way so that they never worry about the education of their children," Jacks said. "Being away, especially parents that are being deployed, they are very concerned what's happening back there."
Prince William County school officials said 35 percent of Ashland's student body is connected with the military.
During a roundtable discussion at the school library, one mother at the school, Lt. Colonel Rojan Robotham, raised the issue of making child care available and affordable for families.
Trump's administration has proposed major budget cuts that would eliminate several after-school programs targeting mostly low-income families, saying they have proven to be ineffective. The plan has prompted criticism from teacher unions and other groups.
"It's very challenging to find quality before and after-care and care that works with a military schedule," Robotham told DeVos. "So I am hoping if not yourself or Ivanka Trump — somebody— takes it on and really solves it for us, 'cause it's a need."
"I hear that," DeVos answered.
"I hope to encourage her and others to advocate to not cut child care in general and increase more," Robotham told reporters after the meeting with DeVos.
"I think it's great that she is hearing it from myself and other people 'cause oftentimes you have to hear it from more than one person and different parts of the community for people to take action."
DeVos, who has made promoting charter and private schools options a key priority, received praise for her efforts from another parent at the school. Sr. Master Sgt. Sam Look said that enlisted and junior personnel may not always afford to settle in affluent neighborhoods with good public schools, so it is important to have school-choice options.
"This school is a complete blessing, but not all schools that we have to go to as we transition from base to base are this good," Look said. "When we don't have choices, when you can't afford to put your kids in a better schools or live in better neighborhoods, that becomes problematic."
But proponents of public schools worry that giving taxpayer money to charter and private schools will defund traditional public schools. Outside the school, DeVos was greeted by a small group of protesters holding signs, "We (love) public education" and "Vouchers only help the rich." Nearby, several other activists showed up to support her.