Tour DeVos

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos will visit private autism center, Air Force Academy on Colorado leg of tour

PHOTO: U.S. Department of Education
Education Secretary Betsy DeVos visiting Ashland Elementary School in April.

U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos on Wednesday will visit a Denver private autism center that played a key role in a historic U.S. Supreme Court case over how public schools should care for students with special needs.

The new details announced by the U.S. Department of Education come one day after the department announced DeVos’s trip through six Western and Midwestern states. The aim of the tour, the first of its kind for the Michigan billionaire since her confirmation, is to highlight schools that are rethinking education.

The nonprofit center DeVos will visit, Firefly Autism, was founded in 2002. According to the center’s website it has helped more than 400 students since then.

One of those students, known as Endrew F., was the plaintiff in a recent lawsuit that challenged how the Douglas County School District educates its students with special needs.

The U.S. Supreme Court sided with Endrew’s family. In a March decision, the court set a higher standard for how public schools must educate students with disabilities.

Public school districts often pay Firefly to educate students they cannot accommodate. Firefly has also consulted more than 17 school districts in four countries to train teachers on specific autism programs.

The U.S. Department of Education said DeVos’s tour of the center will be closed to the press at the request of the school, citing federal health privacy law. DeVos will host a roundtable with Firefly educators, then make brief statements and take questions from the press, the department said.

After her visit at Firefly, DeVos will tour the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs.

DeVos kicked off her multistate swing Tuesday in Wyoming, where she laid out her vision of school choice and put in a plug for personalized learning.

That vision is all about parents having lots of options for where to send their students — and for many of those options to serve one slice of students well, rather than trying to educate students with different needs.

DeVos’s tenure as education secretary has been controversial since her nomination by President Donald Trump. DeVos, who used her personal wealth to advocate for more charter schools and private school vouchers, has particularly drawn the ire of teachers unions.

Wednesday’s trip won’t be DeVos’s first trip to Colorado.

This summer DeVos spoke at a conference of conservative state lawmakers. During her speech she championed private school vouchers, something the Colorado Supreme Court has twice ruled unconstitutional. Opponents staged a rally at the Capitol in advance of her visit.

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.”