Tour DeVos

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

PHOTO: Gabriel Scarlett/The Denver Post
Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos spoke to a packed crowd at an American Legislative Exchange Council conference in Denver.

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.

tribute

Betsy DeVos laments death of Memphis civil rights leader Dwight Montgomery

PHOTO: Yalonda M. James/The Commercial Appeal
Pastor Dwight Montgomery, president of the Memphis chapter of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, prays with Kellogg workers who filed race-based discrimination complaints in 2014. Montgomery died on Sept. 13 at the age of 67.

The death of a prominent Memphis pastor drew condolences Thursday from U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, who praised the Rev. Dwight Montgomery for his education advocacy work.

PHOTO: U.S. Department of Education
Betsy DeVos

DeVos issued her statement a day after the death of Montgomery, 67, one of few prominent black civil rights leaders to back the divisive education chief:

“Rev. Montgomery was a steadfast advocate for equality and opportunity for all, especially for students and parents. He knew neither income nor address should determine the quality of education a child receives. Through his work in Memphis and with the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, many students and families benefitted from opportunities, both educational and spiritual, they would otherwise have been denied.

We in the education community mourn the loss of his leadership, but most who knew him mourn the loss of their pastor. My prayers are with the faithful of Annesdale Cherokee Baptist Church as they will be the legacy of their shepherd.”

Since 2004, Montgomery had been president of the Memphis chapter of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, the civil rights organization founded in 1957 to extend the momentum of the bus boycott in Montgomery, Alabama, that vaulted Martin Luther King Jr. to national prominence.

In that role, Montgomery backed efforts that would support local Christian schools — including tuition vouchers, which set aside public money for children to attend private schools. Voucher legislation has failed to pass in Tennessee for at least a dozen years, with the hottest bed of opposition in Memphis, where recent bills would have launched a pilot program.

DeVos is a staunch advocate of the policy and has said she would like to incentivize states to create voucher programs, although it is unclear what the Trump administration might do to make that happen.

PHOTO: Tennessee Federation for Children
Dwight Montgomery (second from right) rallied pastors to present a petition in support of vouchers to the Tennessee legislature in 2015.

After DeVos’ confirmation hearings in January, Montgomery wrote a commentary for The Commercial Appeal calling her “a wonderful woman” and “the reform-minded Education Secretary our country needs.”

In Tennessee and Florida, chapters of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference have frequently partnered with the American Federation for Children, an organization that DeVos once chaired, to push vouchers as a civil rights issue. In 2015, Montgomery led a group of pastors affiliated with SCLC to the state Capitol to present a petition of 25,000 signatures supporting vouchers.

Montgomery also served as the chairman of the education committee for the Memphis Baptist Ministerial Association.

Most recently, he has supported an effort that DeVos’ boss does not endorse: to relocate a statue of Confederate Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest from a Memphis park in the wake of racism and violence in Charlottesville, Virginia. This week, Montgomery was among more than 150 Memphis religious leaders who signed a letter asking for support from the Tennessee Historical Commission.

devos on tour

The tiny Nebraska private school Betsy DeVos visited today offered some quiet protest

PHOTO: U.S. Department of Education
Betsy DeVos

Talk about an awkward reception.

Nelson Mandela Elementary School is the kind of tiny private school that might benefit from school choice policies that U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos supports.

But when DeVos stopped by the Omaha school Thursday as part of her “Rethink School” tour, she encountered a bit of resistance.

From the Omaha World-Herald:

Several teachers and students wore “NE (Heart) Public Schools” stickers.

While Mandela is a private school funded by the Lozier Foundation and William and Ruth Scott Family Foundation, Lozier said in a release that school officials do not support charter schools, which DeVos has championed. The school has a strong cooperative relationship with [Omaha Public Schools], she said.

But make no mistake, Mandela, housed in the former Blessed Sacrament church, is not a charter school. (Nebraska does not allow charter schools.)

“We’re not a charter school and that’s the message we want to hit home today,” she said at a press briefing after DeVos’ visit. “We’re not setting up a conflict or competition between the school systems – public, private, Catholic. We’re all in the business of helping kids learn.”

DeVos, along with her predecessors in the Obama administration, supports charter schools, which are privately operated but publicly funded. When charter schools are allowed, they can put a squeeze on private school enrollment by giving families a free alternative to local public schools.

What DeVos didn’t find at Mandela were active protesters. She got one at her next stop — dressed like a bear.

No protesters were seen before the visit at Mandela. At St. Mary’s, Donna Roller, a former Montessori teacher, showed up to protest in a bear mask. The mask was in reference to DeVos’ statements that guns should be allowed in schools in case of a bear attack.

DeVos headed back to friendlier terrain for her next stop of the day. Hope Academy, a charter school that serves students in recovery from addiction, is in Indianapolis — a city that DeVos has repeatedly praised, in a state whose choice policies reflect her priorities.