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Education Secretary Betsy DeVos to speak at Denver organization annual meeting

(Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

DENVER — Education Secretary Betsy DeVos will make an appearance in Denver on Thursday at the 44th annual American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) meeting.

ALEC bills itself America’s largest nonpartisan, voluntary membership organization of state legislators dedicated to the principles of limited government, free markets and federalism.

The organization says it is comprised of nearly one-quarter of the country’s state legislators and stakeholders and “is a forum for stakeholders to exchange ideas and develop real, state-based solutions to encourage growth, preserve economic security and protect hardworking taxpayers.”

An 2013 piece published in The Guardian characterized the council as “a secretive alliance of big businesses and largely Republican state legislators who co-operate to push a right-wing political agenda in the American hinterland.”

An article in the Atlantic noted that “to its critics, it’s a shadowy back-room arrangement where corporations pay good money to get friendly legislators to introduce pre-packaged bills in state houses across the country.”

Among the more controversial ideas pushed by the council is the repeal of the Affordable Care Act, also known as “Obamacare”, a move that drove AARP to withdraw from the organization.

Perhaps the most criticized stance the council positively embraced is the Stand Your Ground Law, the support of which drew widespread blowback from council opposition in the wake of the Trayvon Martin shooting.

The organization says that by “joining ALEC, state legislators gain the competitive advantage of shared knowledge and experience, as they are able to learn from one another about what policies have succeeded or failed in the states. Similarly, business leaders and policy experts are able to discuss the real-world implications of potential policies with state legislators who best know their communities and economic landscapes.”

The 2017 meeting will run from July 19 to July 21 and will address issues that include commerce and economic development, tax and fiscal policy and education and workforce development.

DeVos recently made headlines with her scrutiny of Denver Public Schools, saying that  DPS is an example of a district that appears to be choice-friendly, but actually lacks options for parents. She said without vouchers to pay for private schools, the application process doesn’t benefit every child.

Denver Public Schools was ranked No. 1 for the second year in a row by the Brookings Institute, which acknowledges the district has high-quality public schools, both district-run and charter.

DeVos instead credited the high status to skewed requirements. “Denver scored well because the single application process for both charter and traditional public schools, as well as a website that allows parents to make side-by-side comparisons of schools,” DeVos said at a Brookings Institute education event.

“But the simple process masks the limited choices. … I think it’s worth repeating that, even though a district may place well on the competition index, the letter grade does not necessarily reflect the state of education within that district.

DPS hit back, disagreeing with the statement. “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,” said DPS superintendent Tom Boasberg.

Among the other notable speakers at the ALEC meeting are Newt Gingrich and Peter H. Coors. Registration is available on the council website.