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DeVos + Puerto Rico + Texas funding = SXSW day two

U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos speks in 2017 at a National Summit on Education Reform meeting in Nashville, Tennessee.
U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos speks in 2017 at a National Summit on Education Reform meeting in Nashville, Tennessee.

Welcome to Chalkbeat’s coverage of SXSW EDU! We’re spending the week in Austin and publishing special editions of our national newsletter along the way. Here’s what you should know happened on the conference’s day two. Did a friend forward? You can subscribe here.

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos took questions from a somewhat rowdy crowd.

A few highlights from DeVos’s speech and appearance at SXSW EDU:

  • In response to a question from Chalkbeat, DeVos said she backs a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants covered by the DACA program. This appears to be one step more specific than her previous comments on the topic. “I’m very hopeful that Congress is going to ultimately do what Congress needs to do, and act on this,” she said.
  • Asked why she she named entrepreneurs ahead of teachers and students in earlier comments listing education stakeholders, DeVos said, “Well, we’re at an innovation conference.” Teachers are innovators too, she said, and they need more freedom in the classroom.
  • DeVos was moderating, and she initially offered up a question about how to improve education for students of color — submitted by the audience — to the panelists. But after murmuring from audience members, she took it herself. She relied on her now standard responses: school choice and bottom-up change. “When I see communities that have the greatest number of choices and opportunities for students to find the right fit for them — the environments that excite them and engage their curiosity — I don’t think you can find anything better than that,” she said.
  • In other news: DeVos is visiting Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida on Wednesday morning.

Voucher advocacy group EdChoice has its eyes on Puerto Rico.

After seeing its schools rocked by Hurricane Maria, Puerto Rico is considering closing hundreds of traditional public schools and expanding charters and vouchers. The territory may get the help of EdChoice. Robert Enlow, the group’s leader, told Chalkbeat that Puerto Rico’s education secretary, Julia Keleher, asked his advocacy group to offer “technical assistance” there. Keleher didn’t respond to Chalkbeat’s request to comment, but she subsequently told a Politico reporter that there had just been “one phone call” with EdChoice and that there was no formal agreement with the group.

Consensus on school funding in Texas.

Texas Rep. Gina Hinojosa, said “it is broken.” Nicole Conley Johnson, the chief financial officer for Austin’s schools, called it “undeniably broken.” Noel Candelaria, head of the Texas State Teachers Association, offered “inadequate and broken.” The three were on a panel together Tuesday, where Hinojosa said lawmakers should focus on better funding special education in the state, referencing the 2016 Houston Chronicle investigation into illegal caps on special ed services.

The Great American Teach-Off

Chalkbeat’s first-ever Great American Teach-Off happens today! Be sure to arrive early — doors open at 3 p.m. We’re in Room 16AB of the convention center. We can’t wait to see you there.

What else we’ll be paying attention to tomorrow

Local stories on Chalkbeat to check out

What we’re reading

  • The West Virginia teachers strike is over, and teachers are getting a 5 percent raise. It’s the latest instance of teacher activism coming at a moment of social upheaval for the country. New York Times
  • Oklahoma teachers are also considering a strike over low pay. The Intercept
  • The Chan Zuckerberg Initiative is giving $30 million to an early-literacy program run by Harvard and MIT that will start in Charlotte, North Carolina. The 74

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