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DeVos + Puerto Rico + Texas funding = SXSW day two

PHOTO: ExcelinEd

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

The New Chancellor

Tell us: What should the new chancellor, Richard Carranza, know about New York City schools?

PHOTO: Christina Veiga
A student at P.S. 69 Journey Prep in the Bronx paints a picture. The school uses a Reggio Emilia approach and is in the city's Showcase Schools program.

In a few short weeks, Richard Carranza will take over the nation’s largest school system as chancellor of New York City’s public schools.

Carranza, who has never before worked east of the Mississippi, will have to get up to speed quickly on a new city with unfamiliar challenges. The best people to guide him in this endeavor: New Yorkers who understand the city in its complexity.

So we want to hear from you: What does Carranza need to know about the city, its schools, and you to help him as he gets started April 2. Please fill out the survey below; we’ll collect your responses and share them with our readers and Carranza himself.

The deadline is March 23.

buses or bust?

Mayor Duggan says bus plan encourages cooperation. Detroit school board committee wants more details.

PHOTO: Denver Post file
Fourth-graders Kintan Surghani, left, and Rachel Anderson laugh out the school bus window at Mitchell Elementary School in Golden.

Detroit’s school superintendent is asking for more information about the mayor’s initiative to create a joint bus route for charter and district students after realizing the costs could be higher than the district anticipated.

District Superintendent Nikolai Vitti told a school board subcommittee Friday that he thought the original cost to the district was estimated to be around $25,000 total. Instead, he said it could cost the district roughly between $75,000 and a maximum of $125,000 for their five schools on the loop.

“I think there was a misunderstanding….” Vitti said. “I think this needs a deeper review…The understanding was that it would be $25,000 for all schools. Now, there are ongoing conversations about it being $15,000 to $25,000 for each individual school.”

The bus loop connecting charter and district schools was announced earlier this month by Mayor Mike Duggan as a way to draw kids back from the suburbs.

Duggan’s bus loop proposal is based on one that operates in Denver that would travel a circuit in certain neighborhoods, picking up students on designated street corners and dropping them off at both district and charter schools.

The bus routes — which Duggan said would be funded by philanthropy, the schools and the city — could even service afterschool programs that the schools on the bus route could work together to create.

In concept, the finance committee was not opposed to the idea. But despite two-thirds of the cost being covered and splitting the remaining third with charters, they were worried enough about the increased costs that they voted not to recommend approval of the agreement to the full board.  

Vitti said when he saw the draft plan, the higher price made him question whether the loop would be worth it.

“If it was $25,000, it would be an easier decision,” he said.

To better understand the costs and benefits and to ultimately decide, Vitti said he needs more data, which will take a few weeks. 

Alexis Wiley, Duggan’s chief of staff, said the district’s hesitation was a sign they were performing their due diligence before agreeing to the plan.

“I’m not at all deterred by this,” Wiley said. She said the district, charters, and city officials have met twice, and are “working in the same direction, so that we eliminate as many barriers as we can.”

Duggan told a crowd earlier this month at the State of the City address that the bus loop was an effort to grab the city’s children – some 32,500 – back from suburban schools.

Transportation is often cited as one of the reasons children leave the city’s schools and go to other districts, and charter leaders have said they support the bus loop because they believe it will make it easier for students to attend their schools.

But some board members had doubts that the bus loop would be enough to bring those kids back, and were concerned about giving charters an advantage in their competition against the district to increase enrollment.

“I don’t know if transportation would be why these parents send their kids outside of the district,” Angelique Peterson-Mayberry said. “If we could find out some of the reasons why, it would add to the validity” of implementing the bus loop.

Board member LaMar Lemmons echoed other members’ concerns on the impact of the transportation plan, and said many parents left the district because of the poor quality of schools under emergency management, not transportation.

“All those years in emergency management, that drove parents to seek alternatives, as well as charters,” he said. “I’m hesitant to form an unholy alliance with the charters for something like this.”