DeVos pledges to boost private schools, takes aim at Blaine Amendments

By Nicole Gaudiano

05/19/2020 07:25 PM EDT

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos said on Tuesday that she would “absolutely” work to provide funding for private schools in a new coronavirus relief package.

Speaking on SiriusXM’s Catholic Channel radio station, she also said she hopes the Supreme Court will strike down so-called Blaine Amendments when it issues its decision this term in Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue. Such amendments prohibit the use of public funds to aid religious schools in nearly 40 states and present a legal barrier for school choice programs, long promoted by DeVos.

“Parents should have that opportunity to make that decision along with their children as to what kind of an education they want and they want to seek,” she saidduring an interview with host Cardinal Timothy Dolan, the archbishop of New York. “And so all of the efforts that we’ve been putting forward and that President Trump has continued to champion, is allowing parents to make those kinds of choices.”

DeVos already has gotten pushback for guidance under the CARES Act, H.R. 748 (116), that public education groups say will give private K-12 schools an unfair share of support.

She was receptive to Dolan, who said he was “a little worried” the House-passedHEROES Act, H.R. 6800 (116), doesn’t include aid for nonpublic schools. His concerns are echoed by a coalition of advocates for private schools that they say face closure. Dolan asked whether DeVos, President Donald Trump and “fair-minded” Republicans and Democrats would “try to rectify that.”

“Absolutely,” DeVos responded. “And I know that there’s been a pause in consideration of an additional package. I think rightfully so, and we will continue to be engaged in those discussions.”

She continued, “And the White House and the president are really committed to fighting for the opportunity for these children to be able to continue in the schools that their families have selected, and for these schools importantly, to be able to continue to operate and serve the students they’re serving so well today.”

DeVos also took aim at the “religious bigotry” of Blaine Amendments that she said are rooted in “anti-Catholic” bias. She said she hopes the Supreme Court will rule in favor of three Montana families who want the court to declare that excluding religious schools from student aid programs is unconstitutional.

School choice advocates, including DeVos, see the case as a way to overturn Blaine Amendments.

“We are very hopeful that that is going to be struck down and that people of faith are going to be able to pursue their education equally and as respected as any other individual and any other school,” DeVos said.

A lawyer for Montana, however, said during arguments that the state constitution’s “No-Aid Clause” protects religious freedom from governmental interference.