U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos critical of Denver Public Schools

DENVER -- U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos called out Denver Public Schools for what she said was its appearance of welcoming school choice but actually not providing any real options to parents, angering Colorado Democrats and educators.

DeVos made the statement during a speech at the Brookings Institute in Washington Wednesday. This came just a week after she praised DPS for its efforts to support school choice, Chalkbeat reported.

For a second straight year, Denver Public Schools’ system of school choice has been ranked No. 1 in the nation by the Brookings Institute.

But DeVos implied DPS is pushing a false agenda when it comes to school choice. She said Denver does not provide parents a voucher program, which the state Supreme Court has twice ruled was unconstitutional.

“Choice without accessibility doesn’t matter, just as accessibility without choices doesn’t matter. Neither scenario ultimately benefits students,” she said.

A week earlier, DeVos publicly praised Denver’s efforts to provide transportation to some students so they could attend charter and district schools, Chalkbeat reported.

School officials and state lawmakers have been quick to respond to her remarks.

Denver Public School Superintendent Tom Boasberg released the following statement:

“We respectfully disagree with Secretary DeVos. We do not support private school vouchers. We believe that public dollars should be used for public schools that are open to all kids, whether they are district-run or charter,” Boasberg said.

“A core principle in Denver and one of the main reasons we rank no. 1 nationally in school choice is that we ensure equitable systems of enrollment among district-run and charter schools, where all schools play by the same enrollment rules and all schools are subject to the same rigorous accountability system. We do not support choice without accountability.”

Rep. Jared Polis said in a series of tweets that DPS provides strong alternatives for parents and that DeVos should visit Denver for herself:

School choice is successful in Denver because parents get to choose from a number of high-quality public schools. Some students attend charters and many others attend a different public school other than their neighborhood school. That's the point of public school choice: parents and students are empowered to make a decision about what school is best for them. Denver is an example of how choice works best when schools are accountable for outcomes and public money stays in public schools. DPS has strong magnet, charter, alternative, and arts schools. Every child is unique; different public schools meet different needs. Private vouchers are NOT and should never be a litmus test for high-quality school choice. You should visit DPS and see for yourself.

Sen. Michael Bennet said DeVos could learn a lot from DPS.

“Secretary DeVos could not be more wrong about the success of school choice in Denver,” Bennet said.  “The Brookings Institution recognized DPS as number one in the nation for school choice. Secretary DeVos could learn a lot from DPS’s teachers, schools, and leadership. As she continues to settle into her role as Education Secretary, I hope she takes up my offer to visit Denver and see our success firsthand.”

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