high praise

In a speech to ALEC, Betsy DeVos name drops Indiana school choice programs and advocates

PHOTO: Meghan Mangrum
Protestors gathered in front of the Indiana State House before marching through downtown Indianapolis to protest ALEC's annual meeting taking place at the JW Marriott downtown last year.

U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos praised Indiana’s charter school and voucher programs today in Colorado during a speech to the American Legislative Exchange Council, known as ALEC.

The organization, strongly criticized by teachers unions, is a conservative nonprofit lobbying group that pairs conservative legislators and business owners to write model legislation. ALEC is holding its annual conference this week in Denver.

Read: Betsy DeVos defends vouchers and slams AFT in her speech to conservatives

DeVos highlighted how Indiana was an early state to adopt charter schools, taxpayer-funded voucher programs and tax credit scholarships, following the example of Minnesota and Wisconsin. She also mentioned the contributions of current and former Indiana leaders, calling out former Gov. Mitch Daniels and current Gov. Eric Holcomb, as well as House Speaker Brian Bosma and U.S. Rep. Todd Huston.

She also spoke highly of politicians from Michigan, Arizona, Wisconsin, Florida and Kentucky.

“Progress in providing parents and students educational choices didn’t come through a top-down federal dictate – it came as a result of leadership from governors like John Engler, Tommy Thompson, Jeb Bush and Mitch Daniels and continued with governors like Doug Ducey, Scott Walker, Eric Holcomb, Rick Scott and Matt Bevin.

And it came from state legislative leaders like Polly Williams in Wisconsin, Brian Bosma and Todd Huston in Indiana, Ann Duplessis in Louisiana, Debbie Lesko in Arizona, Dan Forest in North Carolina, and so many others, many of whom are in this room today.”

DeVos’ picks are among the state’s most ardent school choice advocates, championing legislation that has established a prolific charter school system and one of the largest voucher programs in the country.

Read: The first major study of Indiana’s voucher program might not change much for the state’s strong pro-school choice legislature

ALEC has had far-reaching influence in Indiana, with several key lawmakers participating in the group and elements of the group’s model laws inspiring some of Indiana’s education reforms in recent years. Rep. Bob Behning, chairman of the House Education Committee, has been a member.

The group also admires and has sought to promote Indiana’s legislative work on education, naming its model legislation for school choice programs the “Indiana Education Reform Package.”

Last summer, ALEC held its yearly conference in Indianapolis.

You can find DeVos’ full speech here.

Out of the game

The businessman who went to bat for apprenticeships is out of Colorado’s governor’s race

Democratic gubernatorial candidates Donna Lynne, Noel Ginsburg and Cary Kennedy at a candidate forum hosted by the Colorado Association of School Boards. (Photo by Nic Garcia)

Noel Ginsburg, an advocate for apprenticeships and a critic of Colorado’s teacher effectiveness law, has withdrawn from the Democratic race for governor.

Ginsburg, a businessman who had never run for office before, always faced a tough road to the nomination. He announced Tuesday that he would not continue with the petition-gathering or assembly process after his last place finish in the caucus, where he got 2 percent of the vote.

In an interview with The Denver Post, Ginsburg said, “I don’t believe I have the resources to be fully competitive.”

Just last month, Ginsburg released an education platform that called for the repeal of Colorado’s teacher effectiveness law, the signature legislative achievement of former state Sen. Mike Johnston, also a candidate for governor.

Ginsburg runs CareerWise, an apprenticeship initiative of Gov. John Hickenlooper that allows students to earn money and college credit while getting on-the-job experience starting in high school. His platform called for expanding apprenticeship programs and getting businesses more involved in education.

He also promised to lead a statewide effort to change the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights to allow the state to retain more revenue and send much of it to schools. He said that schools, not roads, should be the top priority of Colorado’s next governor.

Ginsburg will continue at the head of CareerWise, as well as Intertech Plastics, the company he founded.

Johnston, U.S. Rep. Jared Polis, and Lt. Gov. Donna Lynne have all turned in signatures to place their names on the ballot. Former Treasurer Cary Kennedy, who has the endorsement of two teachers unions, is not gathering signatures and will need at least 30 percent of the vote at the assembly to appear on the ballot. Kennedy finished in first place at the caucus earlier this month.


Up next for the PEP: Five mergers, one missing member, and a snow delay

PHOTO: Alex Zimmerman
Teacher Aixa Rodriguez speaks at a Panel for Educational Policy meeting in 2016.

As a winter storm bears down on New York City, Mayor Bill de Blasio has canceled school — which means the city’s oversight panel’s meeting slated for Wednesday is off, too.

The Panel for Educational Policy’s meeting hasn’t been rescheduled, but when its members do meet, they will have to decide whether to OK a new set of school mergers. It’s likely to be less contentious than last month’s meeting, when the Panel for Educational Policy voted down two of the education department’s school closure proposals and delayed a third in a rare rebuke.

This time around, there are no school closures on the agenda. But there may still be reverberations from last month’s meeting.

Soon after that meeting, T. Elzora Cleveland, a mayoral appointee to the panel and who cast a deciding vote to block two of the closures, resigned. And there are still open questions about how the panel will approach future education department proposals. Here’s what we’ll be watching for.

Who will serve on the oversight board going forward?

After casting a deciding vote blocking two of the education department’s closure proposals, Cleveland resigned from the board. Her resignation raised questions about whether City Hall had lost patience with her dissent and urged her to step down, but it also leaves the 13-person panel with one fewer member.

On Tuesday, City Hall spokeswoman Olivia Lapeyrolerie said the mayor had not yet chosen a replacement. “We are actively working to appoint a new panel member,” she wrote in an email.

Lapeyrolerie declined to comment on when the mayor would make an appointment, which will give the administration a smaller margin of error until the seat is filled

Will the panel continue to push back against the administration’s proposals?

Since eight of the board’s 13 members are appointed by de Blasio, the panel has generally approved proposals submitted by the education department, which the mayor also controls. Last month was a notable exception. Though the panel approved 10 school closures at that meeting — the largest single wave since de Blasio took office — it blocked three others after more than eight hours of impassioned testimony from lawmakers and families.

With a smaller number of mayoral appointees currently seated on the board, it could be slightly easier to block the education department’s proposals. Without Cleveland, the panel currently has just 12 members— so just one dissenting mayoral appointee could block a proposal if the other five panel members vote as a bloc.

But now that the largest wave of closures this year has passed, it’s unlikely that the panel will face as many contentious votes before the mayor appoints a new member to the oversight panel.

Could the current slate of school mergers generate similar backlash?

The education department’s plans include five mergers, where one school’s teachers and students are absorbed into another. Two of the plans involve schools in the mayor’s controversial and expensive Renewal turnaround program for struggling schools. In many of those cases, city officials have argued mergers are needed where schools have become too small to sustain enough teachers and programming to provide students a rich experience, as funding is allocated partly based on enrollment.

Though less contentious than closures, mergers can still spark fierce resistance from school communities. And the education department’s plan to merge Longwood Preparatory Academy and Holcombe L. Rucker School of Community Research and add a Success Academy charter middle school to the building has already prompted outcry from some advocates, educators, and students.

“Hundreds of parents, students and teachers protested the new wave of school closings at the February 28 PEP meeting,” Bronx Power, an organization that has criticized school closures, wrote in a statement announcing a protest of the Longwood Prep merger. “Although most of the schools were closed as proposed, momentum is building to stop this new de Blasio policy.”

Whatever the outcome, the upcoming meeting won’t offer members of the public an opportunity to address schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña, who is expected to step down April 2. Before the meeting was canceled, Senior Deputy Chancellor Dorita Gibson was set to attend in Fariña’s place.

You can find the full list of the education department’s proposals here.