DeVos dis­cusses con­trol in states

Ed­u­ca­tion sec­re­tary finds her au­di­ence at ALEC lun­cheon talk

The Denver Post - - FRONT PAGE - By Monte Wha­ley

U.S. Ed­u­ca­tion Sec­re­tary Betsy DeVos, booed at a col­lege com­mence­ment and re­viled by teacher groups across the nation, found a co­zier au­di­ence Thurs­day in Den­ver at a gather­ing of con­ser­va­tive thinkers and pol­icy ad­vo­cates.

DeVos gar­nered two stand­ing ova­tions from mem­bers of the Amer­i­can Leg­isla­tive Ex­change Coun­cil. She, in kind, de­liv­ered what they wanted to hear dur­ing a roughly halfhour speech, at­tack­ing teacher unions and ed­u­ca­tion poli­cies of the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion and pledg­ing her sup­port for en­sur­ing the most im­por­tant ed­u­ca­tional de­ci­sions be left up to lo­cal schools and fam­i­lies.

“My job is to get the fed­eral govern­ment out of the way, so you can do your job,” DeVos said. “The era of the top-down, one-size-fits-all man­date is over.”

She urged lo­cal school dis­tricts to create flex­i­ble learn­ing plans man­dated by the Ev­ery Stu­dent Suc­ceeds Act, or ESSA, that em­pha­sizes lo­cal con­trol. “I have urged states to use flex­i­bil­ity and to break away from the com­pli­ance men­tal­ity,” she said.

DeVos spoke dur­ing a lun­cheon meet­ing of ALEC, an in­flu­en­tial con­ser­va­tive group that crafts model leg­is­la­tion ad­vo­cat­ing free-mar­ket prin­ci­ples and so­lu­tions to pol­icy is­sues in­clud­ing tax lim­i­ta­tions, gun safety and en­vi­ron­men­tal con­trols.

Its mem­bers in­clude sev­eral cor­po­ra­tions and nearly 2,000 leg­is­la­tors, ac­cord­ing to Chalk­beat, a non­profit news or­ga­ni­za­tion that tracks ed­u­ca­tion is­sues.

DeVos and ALEC are on the same page on sev­eral ed­u­ca­tion is­sues, in­clud­ing fa­vor­ing the ex­pan­sion of char­ter schools and school vouch­ers.

“The school choice poli­cies DeVos sup­ports have a track record of im­prov­ing stu­dents’ out­comes across mul­ti­ple mea­sures,” said Inez Feltscher Step­man, di­rec­tor of ALEC’s Ed­u­ca­tion and Work­force De­vel­op­ment Task Force.

Colorado Sec­re­tary of State Walker Sta­ple­ton, who in­tro­duced DeVos at the ALEC lun­cheon, said a mar­ket-based ap­proach to school choice that al­lows par­ents to choose their chil­dren’s school in­stead of au­to­mat­i­cally send­ing them to the neigh­bor­hood school is reap­ing

ben­e­fits in Colorado.

One of the top schools in Den­ver is a DSST char­ter school that is near a “fail­ing” tra­di­tional school, Sta­ple­ton said.

“Colorado is proof that com­pe­ti­tion works,” he said.

This was DeVos’ first visit to Colorado since she was con­firmed by a slim mar­gin in the U.S. Se­nate as the nation’s top ed­u­ca­tion of­fi­cial. Her stint has been marked by loud protests from crit­ics who say she ad­vo­cates dis­man­tling pub­lic schools in fa­vor of those run by pri­vate com­pa­nies.

She was booed at the May com­mence­ment at Bethune-Cook­man Univer­sity, and pro­test­ers briefly blocked her from en­ter­ing a Washington, D.C., mid­dle school.

Hun­dreds protested and marched against DeVos in Den­ver on Wed­nes­day, say­ing she and ALEC want to di­vert pub­lic tax dol­lars to pri­vate schools through vouch­ers and other means.

“Sec­re­tary DeVos and ALEC threaten our demo­cratic process, pub­lic ed­u­ca­tion and unions — the very in­sti­tu­tions that pro­mote jus­tice, lib­erty and the com­mon good,” said Rhi­an­non Wenning, who rep­re­sented the Colorado Ed­u­ca­tion As­so­ci­a­tion at a rally Wed­nes­day on the steps of the state Capi­tol.

No pro­test­ers were seen Thurs­day be­fore, dur­ing or af­ter DeVos’ speech. She did note she of­ten at­tracts “ex­cite­ment.”

“But I wear it like a badge of courage,” DeVos said.

Teacher unions, she added, are back­ing an ed­u­ca­tional sys­tem that is fail­ing chil­dren and par­ents. “They make clear it’s about pro­tect­ing a sys­tem rather than in­di­vid­ual stu­dents. They are to­tally wrong. It’s about pro­tect­ing in­di­vid­ual stu­dents and par­ents,” she said.

DeVos said she is hap­pily work­ing on Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s April ex­ec­u­tive or­der aimed at re­scind­ing regulation and guid­ance doc­u­ments pro­duced by the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion that in­trude on state ed­u­ca­tion de­ci­sions.

Most ed­u­ca­tion poli­cies, DeVos added, should be left to lo­cal teach­ers, school boards and par­ents to de­cide. “Ed­u­ca­tion is best ad­dressed at the state and lo­cal level and with fam­i­lies.”

“We urge states to em­brace cre­ativ­ity,” she added. “That’s the best way to break down the walls that have been built.”

Gabriel Scarlett, The Den­ver Post

Ed­u­ca­tion Sec­re­tary Betsy DeVos speaks to a packed crowd at an ALEC con­fer­ence on Thurs­day at the Hy­att Re­gency in Den­ver.

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