shock to the system

New documents show appointed Denver school board member Holmes left kids alone for hours

DPS parent MiDian Holmes spoke at a Thursday rally supporting the district's reform proposals.

Newly appointed Denver school board member MiDian Holmes pleaded guilty to child abuse in 2006 after police found she left her three children home alone for more than eight hours while she was at work, according to court documents obtained by Chalkbeat.

The kids were 7, 6 and 2 years old at the time, according to the documents.

The account spelled out in a police report is different from the story Holmes relayed to district officials and to the media — that she pleaded guilty to misdemeanor child abuse after her two-year-old daughter wandered out the front door while she was getting ready for work.

Board members, district officials and allies rallied to Holmes’ defense after her criminal record first came to light Wednesday, citing Holmes’ story of her child going missing and saying any parent could relate to such a terrifying turn of events.

Holmes said that any child abuse charges stemmed entirely from that incident. But court records, provided by the Denver District Attorney’s Office, make clear that wasn’t the case.

Chalkbeat reached Holmes by text on Thursday, but she said she was not immediately available for an interview.

The Denver school board met Thursday afternoon behind closed doors to discuss the matter with an attorney. After the meeting, Board President Anne Rowe told Chalkbeat the board would hold a special meeting at 5 p.m. Friday to discuss Holmes’s appointment. She declined to comment further.

Holmes, now 35, was charged with misdemeanor child abuse resulting in “any injury other than serious bodily injury,” the newly released records show. She ended up pleading guilty to misdemeanor child abuse resulting in no injury, according to court documents.

She was sentenced to a year of probation and ordered to take parenting classes, documents show. But according to court records, her probation officer requested her probation be revoked for failure to complete the classes, pay her fines and because she was “considered high risk.”

The court imposed an additional six months of probation, records show.

Court records indicate that in March 2006, police received a 911 hangup call from Holmes’s home. When an officer showed up shortly after 3 p.m., he found her three children “hiding upstairs,” records say. The officer reported the kids had been home alone since 7 a.m.

Holmes “was called and her response time home was 35 minutes,” court documents say.

Initially, Holmes told the police that the children’s father had been at the house since 6:45 a.m. to watch them, according to the records. But when the kids told police they hadn’t seen their father in two years, Holmes “came clean and stated that she lied because she thought they would take her children away,” court documents show.

Holmes and her children were subsequently interviewed by the Denver Department of Human Services, according to court records. One of her children said Holmes had left them alone before, usually when she was at work or cheerleading, the documents show.

When asked what she did for discipline, Holmes “related that she does ‘whoop’ them, usually with her hand and not a belt,” according to the documents.

A records search also turned up a court case from November 2005 in which Holmes was charged with “wrongs to minors” in violation of the Denver municipal code. Court records indicate she was ordered to take parenting classes and sentenced to a year of probation. The charge was eventually dismissed, according to documents.

It is unclear how much the board knew about Holmes’s past before they voted.

Holmes was appointed Tuesday to replace Landri Taylor, who resigned in February, to represent the city’s northeast corner.

Holmes is a parent activist who has been active on DPS committees and was a longstanding volunteer leader for Stand for Children, a pro-education reform advocacy group.

Jeani Frickey Saito, executive director of Stand for Children Colorado, said Thursday that the organization was not aware of the circumstances of Holmes’ conviction described in the newly disclosed records, and that she had not spoken with Holmes since they came to light.

“It’s an unfortunate situation,” Frickey Saito said, “and we are just waiting to see what the next steps are from the board or from MiDian.”

Eric Gorski and Nic Garcia of Chalkbeat Colorado contributed to this report.

Editor’s note: DPS board president Anne Rowe is married to Frank Rowe, Chalkbeat’s director of sponsorships. Frank Rowe’s position is not part of Chalkbeat’s news operation.

Budget backlash

New York stands to lose $433 million in education funding under Trump budget, state says

PHOTO: Monica Disare
State Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia at the School of Diplomacy in the Bronx

President Donald Trump’s proposed federal budget would “eviscerate” education programs by cutting more than $433 million in New York funds, according to state officials.

The budget would slash teacher preparation, after-school programs, and college aid for low-income students, they said.

State Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia used her meeting last month with U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos to push back on potential cuts to education spending. On Tuesday afternoon, she released a joint statement with New York State Board of Regents Chancellor Betty Rosa denouncing the cuts.

“Despite the outcry from education leaders, President Trump’s proposed budget includes a sweeping and irresponsible slashing of the U.S. Department of Education’s budget,” the statement read. “The severe cut will have far-reaching impacts across the nation, with life-shattering consequences for New York’s children.”

Here’s the full breakdown of the state’s preliminary analysis:

expansion plans

Betsy DeVos promises an expansive school choice plan, says opting out would be ‘terrible mistake’ for states

PHOTO: U.S. Department of Education
U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos.

In a speech to the advocacy group she previously led, Betsy DeVos hinted that an aggressive plan to expand public funding of private schools through the federal government is on the way.

The U.S. education secretary offered few details about the plan, which she said would be voluntary for states. And with an administration besieged by controversy, a skeptical Congress, and disagreement among even school choice supporters, it faces an uphill battle.

That did not deter DeVos in her speech at the annual American Federation for Children conference in downtown Indianapolis.

“The president is proposing the most ambitious expansion of school choice in our nation’s history,” she said, soon after being greeted by a standing ovation from school choice supporters. “If a state doesn’t want to participate, that would be a terrible mistake on their part. They will be hurting the children and families who can least afford it.”

School choice comes in many forms, but DeVos and the American Federation for Children have long advocated for vouchers and tax credit programs that provide public money to families in order to pay private school tuition. While proponents argue these initiatives provide a lifeline to low-income students, critics say they drain resources from public schools and are ineffective at improving student achievement.

Indeed, DeVos was met with protests from several dozen teachers and public education advocates who criticized her plan before it had even been released. Voucher programs “rob a majority of the students — we’ve got more than 90 percent of the kids in this country sitting in public schools,” Indiana State Teachers Association president Teresa Meredith told Chalkbeat after a rally held before DeVos’s speech.

Even certain school choice supporters are critical of a federal proposal.

“School choice would not only risk being branded as TrumpChoice, but it would be fronted by an unpopular and divisive president,” wrote Rick Hess of the conservative American Enterprise Institute. “Democrats who are open to school choice but who despise Trump might wonder if they’re missing something when it comes to school choice.”

One prominent school choice supporter, Indiana Congressman Todd Rokita, has already backed the proposal. Still, few seem to expect it to become law. In 2015, a bid to give states the option to use federal money to fund private school tuition was easily voted down in the Senate.

In her speech, DeVos emphasized that the administration’s proposal would devolve power to the states, thought it’s unclear how she would accomplish this seemingly paradoxical goal through a federal program.

“We shouldn’t view this as a chance to mandate a one-size-fits all school choice proposal,” she said. “We won’t accomplish our goals by creating a new federal bureaucracy or by bribing states with their own taxpayers’ money.”

The last line was perhaps an allusion to the Obama administration’s Race to the Top program, though she didn’t specify how the Trump administration’s plan would work differently.

Insofar as states will have a choice about school choice, DeVos is clear which direction she thinks they should go.

“Let me be very clear, I firmly believe every state should provide choices and embrace equal opportunity in education,” DeVos said. “But those are decisions states must make — no two states are the same and no two states’ approaches will be the same, and that’s a good thing.”

The secretary offered a bevy of options that epitomize the “open system” of choices that families should have access to: “It shouldn’t matter if learning takes place in a traditional public school, a Catholic school, a charter school, a non-sectarian private school, a Jewish school, a home school, a magnet school, an online school, any customized combination of those schools – or in an educational setting yet to be developed.”

Earlier in the evening, Indiana’s Republican Governor Eric Holcomb appeared, and former Florida Republican Governor Jeb Bush is scheduled to speak at the conference on Tuesday. Although New Jersey Senator Cory Booker spoke to the group in previous years, no current elected Democrat appears on this year’s agenda.

DeVos seemed keenly aware of the increasingly partisan breakdown on school choice issues, particularly on school vouchers.

“The oldest school choice program in the country was started by the Democrat,” she said, referring to Milwaukee’s long-running school voucher system. “If you hear nothing else I say tonight, please hear this: education should not be a partisan issue.”

Currently about 450,000 students use a voucher or tax-credit funded scholarship to attend a private school.

Recent research in Indianapolis, Louisiana, Ohio, and Washington, D.C. has shown students receiving a voucher saw their test scores drop. There is little research on tax credit programs, partially because many don’t require participating students to take their state test or any test at all.

Private school choice programs have also come under criticism for requiring students with disabilities to waive their rights under IDEA and under-serving those students. Existing voucher programs also allow private schools discriminate against LGBT students.

Proponents point to evidence that public schools improve in response to competition from vouchers, as well as older studies showing that some students attending a private school are more likely to graduate from high school and attend college.

When Chalkbeat asked Secretary DeVos, as she was leaving through a side entrance, what she thought of recent research on school choice, she responded only, “We’re not taking questions.”