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Betsy DeVos Watch: Promoting Private Education, New York fundraisers and references to Acton Institute founder Fr. Robert Sirico

May 25, 2018

On May 16th, Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos, was once again speaking at an event hosted by an organization that funds private, religious education.

DeVos was the featured speaker at a fundraiser for the Alfred E. Smith Foundation, a foundation that supports Catholic Education. Named after a former New York Governor, the Alfred E. Smith Foundation not only supports Catholic education, they provide grants to other Catholic social service agencies.

In her comments at the annual fundraiser by the Alfred E. Smith Foundation, DeVos cites Pope Leo the 13th: 

The contention that the civil government should — at its option — intrude into and exercise intimate control over the family and the household is a great and pernicious error.Pope Leo was right! Government can’t know the needs of individuals better than a parent, a pastor or a friend.

Not surprising that DeVos would use such a quote from Pope Leo the 13th, since it justifies her position of limiting government influence in private education and her undermining of public education.

DeVos goes on to talk about changes to state constitutions that would prohibit tax dollars to support private, religious schools – something that DeVos ironically calls bigotry.

DeVos continues with an ideological framework around education, when she says:

That’s why I’m committed to expanding education freedom for families across America. You’ve heard me described as “pro-school choice.” Well, I am, but choice in education is not limited to a student picking this building or that school – using this voucher or that scholarship. And it’s not public versus private. Parochial versus charter. Homeschool versus virtual. Choice in education is bigger than that.

Choice is about freedom! Freedom to learn, and to learn differently. Freedom to explore. Freedom to fail, to learn from falling and to get back up and try again. It’s freedom to find the best way to learn and grow…to find the exciting and engaging combination that unlocks the God-given potential in every individual.

DeVos then refers to a student in Grand Rapids, Michigan, who received a scholarship from Sacred Heart Academy. Sacred Heart Academy, used to be Sacred Heart of Jesus School, but in 2013-2014, the school changed it’s focus under the leadership of Fr. Robert Sirico, the founder of the rightwing group, the Acton Institute

Fr. Sirico utilizes the resources of the Acton Institute, to provide programing at Sacred Heart Academy, which is reflected in the curriculum and programing offered at the school. It is no surprise that Betsy DeVos speaks highly of Sacred Heart Academy and Fr. Sirico, especially since the DeVos Family has contributed millions to the Acton Institute and Betsy herself, used to be a board member of the free market think tank.

DeVos continues in her speech at the foundation to talk about a program in Pennsylvania, where millions of dollars were redirected from public education to private education and the importance of 529 plans.

529 plans are a market-driven plan for families to save money for their children’s college tuition. However, last year, some of the provisions of 529 plans were changed, which allow families to cover tuition not only at colleges and universities, but also at private elementary and high schools. You read that correctly, it provides parents a way to use government money to help pay for private education. Below is a useful graphic which shows how 529 plans work and the December 2017 changes.

Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, once again demonstrates her commitment to privatizing education and using religion as a means to achieve her goals.

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