U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos slams Denver’s school-choice options

3 min. read
Betsy DeVos. (Gage Skidmore/Flickr/CC BY-SA 2.0)

Betsy DeVos. (Gage Skidmore/Flickr/CC BY-SA 2.0)

Originally posted on Chalkbeat by Sarah Darville on March 29, 2017

Earlier this month, U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos was praising Denver’s efforts to support school choice. Not today.

Speaking at the Brookings Institution Wednesday, she called out Denver as an example of a district that appears to be choice-friendly — but actually lacks sufficient options for families.

A new Brookings report gave the city the top score for school choice, citing the unified application process that allows families to consider charter and district-run schools at the same time.

But DeVos implied that without vouchers to pay for private schools (something Colorado’s state Supreme Court has twice ruled unconstitutional) and a sufficient supply of charter schools, Denver’s application process amounts to an optical illusion.

“The benefits of making choices accessible are canceled out when you don’t have a full menu of options,” she said, pointing to New Orleans as a better example of the choice ecosystem she’d like to see. “Choice without accessibility doesn’t matter. Just like accessibility without choices doesn’t matter. Neither scenario ultimately benefits students.”

The harsh criticism comes just weeks after DeVos publicly praised Denver’s efforts to solve a thorny challenge complicating school choice across the country: transportation. In a speech to the Council of Great City Schools, a group of leaders and school board members of America’s large school districts, she praised the “Success Express” that shuttles students in a handful of neighborhoods to both charter and district schools. But transportation challenges continue to prevent families from taking advantage of the options that do exist.

Denver Public Schools’ Superintendent Tom Boasberg released the following statement responding to DeVos’s comments:

Here are DeVos’s full comments about Denver’s top school choice ranking in the Brookings report:

Chalkbeat is a nonprofit news site covering educational change in public schools.

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