U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos to visit Colorado this week

U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos will visit Colorado this week as part of her first major tour of schools since being confirmed, the federal education department announced Monday.

The department declined to identify which Colorado schools — public or private — DeVos will visit, saying that announcement will come Tuesday. Multiple school districts, charter school networks and education advocates contacted by Chalkbeat said they were unaware of any pending visit by DeVos.

The tour — which begins Tuesday in Wyoming and will include stops in Nebraska, Kansas, Missouri and Indiana in addition to Colorado — aims to highlight “groundbreaking work happening in schools across America.”

DeVos, a proponent of school choice, is expected to visit a mix of schools including district-run, charter, private and home schools, as well as traditional four-year colleges and community colleges.

“There are so many new and exciting ways state-based education leaders and advocates are truly rethinking education,” DeVos said in a statement. “It is our goal with this tour to highlight what’s working. We want to encourage local education leaders to continue to be creative, to empower parents with options and to expand student-centered education opportunities.”

While DeVos has visited numerous schools this year, mostly on the East Coast and in her native Michigan, this is her first extensive multi-state tour.

Two Democratic members of the state’s congressional delegation, U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet and Rep. Jared Polis, previously invited DeVos to tour schools in Denver and Boulder, respectively.

Neither lawmaker’s office immediately said whether DeVos’s staff had notified them of her upcoming visit.

Officials from the state’s three largest school districts — Denver, Douglas County and Jefferson County — all said Monday that DeVos was not planning on visiting this week.

This will not be DeVos’s first trip to Colorado since taking over the federal education department. This summer she rallied conservative policymakers at a conference in Denver. DeVos’s speech was met with a protest organized in part by the state’s largest teachers union, the Colorado Education Association.

In her speech, DeVos highlighted states that have introduced vouchers or new school-choice programs including North Carolina, Kentucky and Arizona.

Before being tapped to lead the education department, DeVos used her personal fortune to advocate for school choice policies including private school vouchers and charter schools.

She’s criticized states and school districts — including Denver Public Schools — for not embracing private school vouchers.

The Colorado Supreme Court has twice ruled vouchers unconstitutional. However, a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision has given new life to a lawsuit out of Douglas County that has been tied up in courts since 2011.

DeVos’s visit to Colorado comes as the state education department prepares to finalize its federally required education plan. Colorado’s plan hit a roadblock after DeVos’s team pushed back on a state testing opt-out policy.

The federal education department is demanding the state hold schools accountable if they fail to test 95 percent of their students annually in math and English. Since 2015, Colorado has been one of the national epicenters of the testing opt-out movement. Hundreds of schools could see their quality ratings lowered depending on how the state decides to comply with the law.

DeVos is not scheduled to meet with Colorado’s Education Commissioner Katy Anthes, a spokeswoman for the state education department said.