ORLANDO, Fla. (WOFL FOX 35) - Education Secretary Betsy Devos made her way back to Central Florida on her first solo trip out of Washington D.C. this Friday morning. This is her second time here in just one month. She visited Valencia College’s Advanced Manufacturing Training Center.
Devos’ visit comes as she’s focusing on schools that offer dual enrollment courses and technical colleges, like Valencia. She said this is another option for people who can’t afford to go to college for 4 years.
“I can’t be more enthusiastic about the work that you’re doing here,” the education secretary told a group of students, staff, and employers during a roundtable discussion.
School officials said Valencia College has the lowest tuition in Central Florida, at $103.06 per credit hour for Florida residents. So on average a full time student pays about $1,500 a semester.
DeVos met with several students and staff members during a roundtable discussion about Valencia. A single mom who graduated from the school told DeVos she used to work at IHop and wanted to make more money, so she joined Valencia’s manufacturing training center and learned construction.
“It’s been great I started with a shovel, I learned how to operate the heaving machines, and now I operate the dump trucks,” said Samantha Rogers during the roundtable.
DeVos also made her way to Valencia College’s Osceola campus, where she was met by protesters. One student yelled to the secretary, “You should be ashamed!”
A small group of students and teachers held signs and expressed anger that she was here. The group told us Valencia College is still not affordable for some students and there should be more grant opportunities.
“Her being here is a slap in the face to Valencia,” said Valencia student Michelle Lopez. “Some people don’t have the chance to come to school, it’s a financial burden, people can’t afford it; people can’t even afford to live.”
The secretary said the Trump Administration is working on ways to make college more affordable.
“President Trump has clearly made it a priority to address the affordability of higher education,” said DeVos. “Valencia is a great example of an affordable path to higher education.”
That’s not necessarily true. Paul Threet graduated from the construction program 9-months ago at Valencia. He’s trying to take a course to learn to become a foreman at his construction company but it costs $1,200 and he said that’s something he cannot afford right now.
“There’s not a lot of funding for the smaller classes, small guys who want to get out there and it’s just important of a job run a excavate, or run a loader, or to be a regular welder. If we can get more funding for that type of education I believe it can improve the economy,” said Threet.
Other people want to see the secretary focus on K-12 funding but the president is proposing to slash more than $9-billion in public education.
“I look at Betsy DeVos as a wrecking ball for public schools; to deter funding from the schools to charter schools,” said President of the Orange County Classroom Teachers Association Wendy Doromal.
“It’s disrespectful to our students because what they’re trying to do is take the money, starve the public schools and then to say the only option is a charter school because all the public schools are failing and the only reason they’re failing is because they’re taking our funding away,” said a Seminole County High School teacher Bobby Agagnina. “So it’s just robbing Peter to pay Paul and I just disagree.”
Some teachers wanted to listen to the secretary’s roundtable discussion were told they were not welcomed.
“They said it was a private event and no public citizens could come in,” said a Seminole County high school teacher Bobby Agagnina.
We asked the secretary about the president’s proposed cuts and she said nothing is set in stone.
“The president’s budget is not yet completed. We’ll be talking more about that in the coming weeks but we are focused on investing on things that have proven to work,” said DeVos.