Dear Commons Community,
Education Secretary Betsy DeVos spent the past two days touring New York City schools but the city’s public schools, with their 1.1 million students, were not among them. Instead, Ms. DeVos visited two Orthodox Jewish schools, and offered her strongest comments to date in support of public funding for religious schools in a meeting with Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan and other Catholic dignitaries.
Ms. DeVos has yet to visit a district-run school in New York, and her choice of institutions to visit drew a terse statement from the city’s Department of Education. “An investment in public education is an investment in the future of our city and country,” the department’s press secretary, Toya Holness, said. “Secretary DeVos is welcome to visit N.Y.C. public schools and see the phenomenal work we’re doing in the nation’s largest school district.”
The trip is the latest effort by DeVos to press what she says is her top priority as education secretary: to expand school choice, including programs that allow public funds to be used for private school education.
DeVos visited the girls school Tuesday, where she spent several hours in classrooms and having lunch with students. Among the officials she met was Rabbi Chaim Dovid Zwiebel, executive vice president of Agudath Israel of America, which is an Orthodox Jewish organization that advocates for public funding of private Orthodox Jewish schools and Hasidic Jewish yeshivas.
On Wednesday, DeVos visited the boys school.
She also delivered a speech at the Alfred E. Smith Memorial Foundation, which supports charities that work with the children of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New York. During the address, she quoted Pope Leo XIII to underscore her oft-stated sentiments about government being a problem rather than a solution to problems — in 2015 she said “government really sucks” — and her opposition to virtually any government involvement in how schools educate children.
Like Smith, I believe that the best solutions to public problems are found in the home, between neighbors, in houses of worship and in communities. Those closest to the individual in need are best positioned to serve because they know one another.
Secretary Devos visit to New York underscores how out of touch she is when it comes to public education in this country.