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As Betsy DeVos Faces Confirmation, Jews Split Over Education Agenda

WASHINGTON (JTA) — An Orthodox Jewish umbrella group urged the Senate to confirm Betsy DeVos as education secretary and another expressed enthusiasm for her agenda, while the Reform movement expressed concerns about her support for government funding of religious schools.

Agudath Israel of America said in a letter Tuesday to the Senate Education Committee as it launched hearings for President-elect Donald Trump’s secretary pick, that it “stands in support” of DeVos.

“Mrs. DeVos will be an education secretary who is focused on the needs of each individual student and not on where he or she attends school,” said the letter. It noted that Agudah had worked closely with DeVos for years in her efforts as the leader of the American Federation for Children to change state laws to facilitate the use of vouchers for private schools, including religious schools.

The Orthodox Union, in a separate letter to the committee stopped short of endorsing DeVos, but said that she “has a long history of advocating for and supporting” the reforms it favors in broadening school choice.

The letters were unusual as Jewish groups rarely weigh in on nominees, instead expressing their concerns through pointed questions.

DeVos’ nomination has raised concerns among church-state separation groups for precisely the reasons the Orthodox groups favor her. In a statement outlining questions it had for various nominees, the Reform movement asked the senators to ask DeVos about “concerns about the use of taxpayer dollars for sectarian education.”

“A central principle of the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause is that members of particular faiths, and not the government, should fund religious institutions,” the release said. “When vouchers are used towards expenses related to religious school education they become an indirect government funding of sectarian institutions.”


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