Round Two

After turmoil, here’s what’s next in search for new Denver school board member

PHOTO: Nicholas Garcia
Board president Anne Rowe, right, and board vice president Barbara O'Brien.

With their first pick having bowed out amid controversy, Denver school board members must regroup and figure out who will join the board — and how exactly the appointment process will play out.

Longtime parent activist MiDian Holmes was appointed to the seven-member board Tuesday. After a decade-old conviction for misdemeanor child abuse was made public, Holmes announced late Thursday that she wouldn’t accept the position.

Board members and allies have underscored that Holmes, a single mother with young children, had endured challenges many other Denver families struggle with as well.

The board was supposed to meet Friday at 5 p.m. to discuss Holmes’ appointment. But board treasurer Mike Johnson said Holmes’ withdrawal made the meeting moot.

The board is set to meet again Monday at 4:30 p.m. for a previously scheduled work session and special meeting. Holmes was supposed to be sworn in at that meeting.

An agenda has not yet been posted.

Monday is the deadline by which the board must choose a successor for former board member Landri Taylor, who resigned in February after representing northeast Denver for three years. State law requires the board fill the vacancy within 60 days.

If that doesn’t happen, the law says, “the president of the board shall forthwith appoint a person to fill the vacancy.” Other than “forthwith,” the law doesn’t specify a deadline.

Board president Anne Rowe said she was unavailable Friday to discuss how she might approach the process of selecting a board member.

A Denver board president last appointed a new member in 2013. A divided board disagreed over who should fill a vacancy created by the resignation of former member Nate Easley. Then-president Mary Seawell ended up appointing Taylor, who was one of three finalists.

There were three finalists this time, as well. On Tuesday, the six remaining board members narrowed the pool of candidates down to Holmes, Jennifer Bacon and Rachele Espiritu.

In a final round of voting, Holmes got four of the six votes.

Bacon got two. She works as regional director of Leadership for Educational Equity, an organization that aims to help Teach for America alumni become school leaders. She is also an attorney and the board chair of Padres & Jovenes Unidos, an advocacy group that has criticized DPS for discipline policies that disproportionately impact students of color.

Espiritu, a parent who works in behavioral health, didn’t get any votes in the final round.

new plan

Lawmakers want to allow appeals before low-rated private schools lose vouchers

PHOTO: Shaina Cavazos
Rep. Bob Behning, chairman of the House Education Committee, authored HB 1384, in which voucher language was added late last week.

Indiana House lawmakers signaled support today for a plan to loosen restrictions for private schools accepting state voucher dollars.

Two proposal were amended into the existing House Bill 1384, which is mostly aimed at clarifying how high school graduation rate is calculated. One would allow private schools to appeal to the Indiana State Board of Education to keep receiving vouchers even if they are repeatedly graded an F. The other would allow new “freeway” private schools the chance to begin receiving vouchers more quickly.

Indiana, already a state with one of the most robust taxpayer-funded voucher programs in the country, has made small steps toward broadening the program since the original voucher law passed in 2011 — and today’s amendments could represent two more if they become law. Vouchers shift state money from public schools to pay private school tuition for poor and middle class children.

Under current state law, private schools cannot accept new voucher students for one year after the school is graded a D or F for two straight years. If a school reaches a third year with low grades, it can’t accept new voucher students until it raises its grade to a C or higher for two consecutive years.

Rep. Bob Behning, R-Indianapolis, the bill’s author, said private schools should have the right to appeal those consequences to the state board.

Right now, he said, they “have no redress.”  But public schools, he said, can appeal to the state board.

Behning said the innovation schools and transformation zones in Indianapolis Public Schools were a “perfect example” for why schools need an appeal process because schools that otherwise would face state takeover or other sanctions can instead get a reprieve to start over with a new management approach.

In the case of troubled private schools receiving vouchers, Behning said, there should be an equal opportunity for the state board to allow them time to improve.

”There are tools already available for traditional public schools and for charters that are not available for vouchers,” he said.

But Democrats on the House Education Committee opposed both proposals, arguing they provided more leeway to private schools than traditional public schools have.

“Vouchers are supposed to be the answer, the cure-all, the panacea for what’s going on in traditional schools,” said Rep. Vernon Smith, D-Gary. “If you gave an amendment that said this would be possible for both of them, leveling the playing field, then I would support it.”

The second measure would allow the Indiana State Board of Education to consider a private school accredited and allow it to immediately begin receiving vouchers once it has entered into a contract to become a “freeway school” — a type of state accreditation that has few regulations and requirements compared to full accreditation.Typically, it might take a year or so to become officially accredited.

Indiana’s voucher program is projected to grow over the next two years to more than 38,000 students, at an anticipated cost — according to a House budget draft — of about $160 million in 2019. Currently in Indiana, there are 316 private schools that can accept vouchers.

The voucher amendments passed along party lines last week, and the entire bill passed out of committee today, 8-4. It next heads to the full House for a vote, likely later this week.

Betsy DeVos

‘Receive mode’? The D.C. school DeVos visited responded to her criticism with a withering tweetstorm

PHOTO: U.S. Department of Education
U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos at Howard University.

Washington D.C.’s Jefferson Middle School Academy is standing up for its teachers after U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos said they are “waiting to be told what they have to do.”

DeVos made the comments in one of her first interviews since being confirmed last week. She said teachers at the school — the first one she visited on the job — were “sincere” but seemed to be in “receive mode,” which she said “is not going to bring success to an individual child.”

The school took to Twitter late Friday to make its case. In 11 messages, the school described several teachers who creating new programs and tailoring their teaching to meet students’ considerable needs.

“JA teachers are not in a ‘receive mode,'” read the final message. “Unless you mean we ‘receive’ students at a 2nd grade level and move them to an 8th grade level.”

The former and current D.C. schools chiefs have also weighed in. Chancellor Antwan Wilson, who accompanied DeVos on her school visit, issued a statement praising the teaching at Jefferson Academy. And his predecessor, Kaya Henderson, tweeted her withering take on DeVos’s comments:

Here’s the full tweetstorm from Jefferson Academy, which D.C. Public Schools considered a “rising school” because of its good -but-not-great test scores.