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Higher-End Private Schools Aren’t Buying Into Betsy DeVos’ Voucher Crusade

May 18, 2018

On May 16, 2018, US ed sec Betsy DeVos spoke to the Alfred E. Smith Foundation at a breakfast in New York. Then, for the first time as US secretary of education, she visited two schools in New York– private schools.

Betsy DeVos 4  Betsy DeVos

This information was not posted on her weekly schedule when I looked on Monday, May 14, 2018. At that time, her schedule was outdated (previous week’s info only).

And according to the May 16, 2018, Washington Post, the information about DeVos’ New York school visits did not appear until the press asked about it:

Betsy DeVos went to New York on Tuesday for her first official visit as education secretary and visited two schools. Can you guess which schools — or, rather, what kind of schools — she went to?

If you said traditional public schools (which educate the vast majority of America’s schoolchildren), you are wrong. If you said charter schools, which are publicly funded but privately operated, you are wrong. If you said independent religious schools — which are religious schools that have independent boards of trustees — you are wrong.

DeVos, a longtime supporter of religious education and public funding of religious schools, visited two orthodox Jewish schools, the elite Manhattan High School for Girls and the Yeshiva Darchei Torah Boys School. The schools did not appear on her official schedule until reporters asked about her New York trip.

What I find interesting about DeVos’ *choice* of New York school visits is that she had just spoken at a breakfast for a nonprofit founded by Archbishop of New York, Francis Cardinal Spellman. The organization’s mission statement:

Founded by His Eminence, Francis Cardinal Spellman in 1946, to honor the memory of Alfred Emanuel Smith, New York’s renowned Governor and patron of the “Little People”: the Alfred E. Smith Memorial Foundation brings hope to the neediest children of the Archdiocese of New York, regardless of race, creed, or color.

In her speech, DeVos drew heavily on Catholic and other religious references/clichés (“cross to bear”) to promote her favorite cause, private school choice. She also reused a favorite put-down for those who disagree: “sycophants of the system.”

I was even surprised to find that she took a quote from Pope Leo XIII to support her pro-voucher bent. (Several generations back, my family is related to Pope Leo XIII, who was pope at the turn of the last century. I had the honor of visiting his grave in the Vatican in 2002. While there, I learned that he had a good reputation; that he was the first pope to have electricity in the Vatican, and he was the first to have his voice audio recorded.

I’m no longer surprised that DeVos does not visit traditional public schools. However, given that she was in a favorable element in promoting private school vouchers to a Catholic-rooted organization, it seems odd that she did not visit a single New York Catholic school.

There is something else that struck me regarding DeVos’ speech: She did not address that private school choice entails the private schools’ choosing to participate.

From her speech:

I’ve learned that, outside of this room, it’s not all that popular for someone in my position to point out hard truths. It’s not popular to admit that American education isn’t serving every student well. But I didn’t take this job to win over editorial boards or to be trending on social media. I took it to serve students. The main focus of my work is to recognize problems, and then take them head on.

Yet DeVos chooses not to take “head on” the reality that private schools have the power to nix her private school choice plans simply by refusing to participate. She could have put that Alfred E. Smith Foundation on the spot like she did the state education superintendents in her March 05, 2018, speech to the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO).

In her speeches, DeVos likes to use specific examples. She could have used Louisiana’s voucher program in her speech. For example, she could have questioned why it is that the Catholic schools participating in Louisiana’s voucher program tend not to be the in-demand Catholic schools, especially the top-of-the-line, Catholic high schools.

“Why is that?” DeVos could have asked.

Allow me to suggest an answer to DeVos’ unasked, school-participation question:

The top-notch Louisiana Catholic schools do not need the revenue generated by the state’s voucher program. They are in a fiscally-comfortable position, which has its privileges, one of which is that there is no voucher lottery to contend with. The school is able to continue with its own selective admission.

IMG_1043

Private schools participating in Louisiana’s voucher program in 2018-19. Compare to the full listing of La’s Blue-Ribbon Private Schools

But back to DeVos:

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.

Freedom.

Freedom for DeVos to hide her schedule.

Freedom for DeVos to “intentionally [not] visit schools that are underperforming.”

Freedom for higher-end private schools to avoid DeVos-regurgitated “parental empowerment” by choosing not to subject themselves to a state-run voucher program.

members only

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Want to read about the history of charter schools and vouchers?

School Choice: The End of Public Education? 

school choice cover  (Click image to enlarge)

Schneider is a southern Louisiana native, career teacher, trained researcher, and author of two other books: A Chronicle of Echoes: Who’s Who In the Implosion of American Public Education and Common Core Dilemma: Who Owns Our Schools?. You should buy these books. They’re great. No, really.

both books

Don’t care to buy from Amazon? Purchase my books from Powell’s City of Books instead.

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