Last month Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos was in New York City to experience private education first hand. She visited two Jewish schools and attended a breakfast hosted by Catholic non-profits educating children in need to hear a speech.  The point of her visit was clearly aimed at Blaine Amendments, provisions in the majority of state constitutions prohibiting use of government funds for religious schools.

At Manhattan High School for Girls on the Upper East Side, an Orthodox Jewish school,  De Vos joined classes and engaged in discussions with students and staff.  Rabbi David Zwiebel, executive vice president of Agudath Israel and a member of CAPE’s board of directors, said the event was believed to be the first visit to a Jewish school by a sitting secretary of education.

The following morning, Secretary Devos spoke at a breakfast hosted by the Alfred E. Smith Memorial Foundation and Champions for Quality Education, two organizations that assist underserved Catholic schools in the Archdiocese of New York.  In attendance with Cardinal Timothy Dolan, Devos raised issue with Blaine Amendments by stating “Our country has an ugly history of unjust laws that force families to violate their consciences or that disrespect their preferences.”  She continued “In the late 1800s, anti-Catholics tried to amend the U.S. Constitution. They failed at the federal level, but they maneuvered to enact the amendment in state constitutions throughout the country….These amendments are still on the books in 37 states.”  Making her point undoubtedly clear, she added “…They were bigoted then, and they still are today….These amendments should be assigned to the ash heap of history, and this ‘last acceptable prejudice’ should be stamped out once and for all.”

Later that day, under a flurry of media observation, Secretary Devos attended Yeshiva Darchei Torah Boys School in Far Rockaway, Queens.  The school is noteworthy for their policy of inclusion for some special-needs students, and offering vocational programs as well as nine Advanced Placement classes and Regents exams.

from the June issue of CAPE Outlook