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Acton Institute founder Rev. Sirico defends DeVos Education Policy for Private Schools

June 1, 2018

Last week, we wrote a story about a recent speech that Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos, gave at a fundraiser for Catholic schools. 

In that speech, she referenced Acton Institute founder Rev. Robert Sirico, applauding the educational model that he is involved in at the Sacred Heart Academy in Grand Rapids. That speech from DeVos was delivered on May 16.

On May 23rd, just one week later, Rev. Sirico returned the favor and wrote an opinion piece in the Detroit News, affirming Betsy DeVos’ private education mantra and calling her speech “bold.”

Besides echoing the private education position that DeVos took in her speech a week earlier, Rev. Sirico frames his position around the history of anti-Catholicism in the US and the US Catholic Conference of Bishops position on education and tax dollars.

Rev. Sirico pushes the position that Catholic parents, who send their children to parochial schools, are loosing their “freedom” by paying for public school education (through their taxes) and for their own children’s education in Catholic schools.

Such a position is often taken by the Libertarian wing of the contemporary conservative movement. Some in this movement argue against using taxpayer funds for public transit, public education and just about anything that the public, including those who advocate such a position, benefit from.

The Catholic Bishops want a federally mandated program of tax subsidies to Catholic families. Rev. Sirico disagrees with this approach, instead choosing to take the states rights path, allowing individual states to determine their future on education policy. As Rev. Sirico says:

An “opt-in” approach is more desirable to top-heavy federal mandates and is more manageable at the local level. States, and for that matter municipalities, would have flexibility to provide education freedom to families who know better than federal planners. Not only is opting-in on a state-by-state basis preferable, it has a better chance passing Congress. 

None of this is surprising. Rev. Sirico and the Acton Institute have long taken a privatization approach to public policy, especially around education. Equally important is the fact that Betsy DeVos was a former board member of the Acton Institute and her mother, Elsa Prince Broekhuizen, is a current board member. In addition, the DeVos Family has contributed millions of dollars to the Acton Institute over the years, to support their neo-liberal capitalist policy proposals.

The Rev. Sirico and Betsy DeVos have a long history together, which is exactly why DeVos was the featured speaker at the Institute’s annual meeting last fall

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