May 17, 2024
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May 17, 2024
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DeVos Pick as Education Secretary Gets an A+ From Day-School Advocates

President-elect Donald Trump’s nomination of Elisabeth “Betsy” DeVos to become the nation’s next secretary of education could be an important first step in making education vouchers a reality for thousands of yeshiva and day school parents from the tri-state area and all over the country.

Already, DeVos, 58 and a Michigan resident and wife of Dick DeVos, heir to the billion dollar Amway Corporation, has gained support from the Orthodox Union. Maury Litwack, the OU’s director of State Political Affairs and a Teaneck resident, told The Jewish Link: “If you are a yeshiva parent and you care about the issue of equitable public funding and the fact that you pay a tremendous amount of taxes and your child doesn’t receive an equal amount of funding, this is an exciting pick.”

“Betsy DeVos,” he continued, “has devoted a good portion of her life fighting for children in public and private schools in a serious way.”

DeVos, whose husband ran unsuccessfully for Michigan governor in 2006, is a proponent of charter schools. These are publically funded schools that don’t answer to public school boards or even unions. She is also deeply in favor of school vouchers, giving families the ability to apply tax monies toward private school tuition in some form, be it text books, transportation, technology or other costs.

Former Michigan Republican Party chairwoman, DeVos is the chair of the American Federation for Children, a Washington, D.C.-based organization with a focus on expanding school of choice options nationally.

In 2000, DeVos and her husband funded an unsuccessful Michigan ballot initiative to amend the state’s Constitution prohibiting the use of tax dollars to be used for private school tuition vouchers.

During that time, DeVos became friends and advocates for school vouchers with Rabbi E.B. “Bunny” Freedman, who at one time was the executive director of the Beth Yehuda Yeshiva for Boys and the Bais Yaakov School for Girls. Freedman ostensibly was DeVos’s Jewish yeshiva and day school consultant, accompanying her all over the state.

“Dick DeVos and Betsy are really powerfully active Republicans,” he told The Jewish Link. “They are religious Christians. Out of Beth Yehuda, I became their contact person in the Jewish community.

It was through Betsy DeVos that Rabbi Freedman met Indiana Governor and now Vice President-elect Mike Pence. She and Pence go back a long way on the voucher issue. “There is no doubt in my mind that she was Pence’s pick. She always had a national focus, and Betsy’s not only an advocate for vouchers and charter schools, she’s a strong advocate for education in general. We haven’t had such a strong advocate of charter schools and vouchers in the White House.”

Freedman has since left education to become the executive director of the Jewish Hospice and Chaplaincy Network of Michigan.

Nathan Diament, executive director of the Orthodox Union’s advocacy center, undoubtedly will be keeping a close watch on any Capitol Hill movement on vouchers. Diament said that the DeVos nomination signals that the Trump administration is looking to follow through on his campaign promise of “school choice” and vouchers. Diament acknowledged that it is a long way until such legislation is passed and implemented.

“Donald Trump talked about pursuing the school choice initiative during his campaign,” said Diament, “and nominating Betsy DeVos is as strong a move as he could make toward this initiative. I expect she will have an array of proposals, some of which she will be able to implement by changing regulations and policies inside her department. But others will require congressional legislation. “We’ll have to see,” he added.

Not everyone is so happy about the nomination.

Lily Eskelsen Garcia, president of the National Education Association, said in a statement to the media, “She has lobbied for failed schemes, like vouchers—which take away funding and local control from our public schools—to fund private schools at taxpayers’ expense. By nominating Betsy DeVos, the Trump administration has demonstrated just how out of touch it is with what works best for students, parents, educators and communities.”

“These schemes do nothing to help our most vulnerable students, while they ignore or exacerbate glaring opportunity gaps,” said Garcia.

However, in announcing the nomination, Trump called DeVos “a brilliant and passionate education advocate. Under her leadership we will reform the U.S. education system and break the bureaucracy that is holding our children back so that we can deliver world-class education and school choice to all families.”

And for Litwack, the nomination, which is subject to confirmation by the majority Republican U.S. Senate, is of tremendous importance.

“It’s important for people to be excited and to understand that it takes a tremendous amount of work to advocate on the state and federal levels for yeshiva children,” he said. “The fact remains that a majority of education funding comes from state legislatures. Her appointment isn’t something that translates into immediate savings, but it bodes well that someone with a public platform will have a real conversation about advocating for all children. All children have been her focus, and that’s where it’s going to remain.”

By Phil Jacobs


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