Betsy DeVos’ Timid Public Presence Is More Than Meets The Eye

Ms. Betsy Devos and her husband, businessman Dick Devos, are among the wealthiest couples in the United States. Having amassed a fortune in the billions, they have used their wealth to champion causes they believe in. With Ms. Devos being nominated and confirmed as Secretary of Education in the Trump Administration, the highest profile advocate for applying free market principles and school choice to the education system gets a chance to make her mark on the national stage.

 

With a background in the private sector and no connections in Washington DC, Betsy Devos is an outsider. Her confirmation hearing was contentious. She was confirmed on a 51-50 vote (Vice President Pence broke the tie with his vote). She confided to her friends that she was bothered that the hearings portrayed her as uninformed. However, Devos has decades of experience in politics and education at the state and local level. She also has the track record of a reformer. For 30 years, Devos has been the leading voice in the school choice movement. Her bias against the government/public school monopoly has been criticized as outright hostility by her opponents.

 

That criticism is well founded. Devos has donated time and money (totaling millions of dollars) to programs advocating school vouchers, charter schools, and directly to private schools themselves. It is well known she and her husband are longtime benefactors of the Potter’s House School. It is a nonprofit institution with a focus on Christ-centered education in Grand Rapids Michigan. It serves primarily lower and middle income students in the area. She also used her influence to send tax dollars to charter schools instead of traditional public schools. That influence has left a mark in her home state of Michigan. The city of Detroit has the highest concentration of charter schools in the country.

 

Ideologically, being against the traditional public school monopoly is mainstream GOP thought. It was President Reagan who famously campaigned on eliminating the Department of Education on the basis that centralization at the federal level limits choice for parents. Fast forward a few decades and it is Betsy Devos who carries that mantle in advocating for school choice for parents.

 

This piece is primarily based on this article: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/02/23/us/politics/education-secretary-betsy-devos-donald-trump.html