Elisabeth Dee “Betsy” DeVos, the 11th United States Secretary of Education, is probably the most controversial person to ever hold that title. But amid all the hubbub of Facebook petitions trying to keep her out of office and phone chains to government officials, few people know more about DeVos than what they’ve read on social media that day. So exactly who is Betsy DeVos?
DeVos and her husband, Dick, have four children and five grandchildren. Dick is an entrepreneur, philanthropist and community activist. Before getting her start in education or politics, DeVos got her start in the business world. She is the former Chairman of The Windiest Group, a privately held investment and management firm. The Windiest group was founded by DeVos and her husband in 1989. DeVos is a graduate of Holland Christian High School, and has a Bachelor of Arts degree from Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan. It was at Calvin College that she first became interested in politics.
She was very active in her community, and served as a member and leader of several organizations. She served as the Chair of the American Federation for Children and The Philanthropy Roundtable board of directors. She also served on a number of other national and local boards that promoted business and the arts in her community. These included ArtPrize, the American Enterprise Institute, and the Foundation for Excellence in Education. She also contributed greatly to the DeVos Institute for Arts Management at the University of Maryland, which she founded alongside her husband.
DeVos has been active in politics for over 35 years. She began her political career as a volunteer for President Gerald R. Ford in 1976. She was elected Chairman of the Michigan Republican Party four times. She has also served the Republican Party in numerous leadership roles in campaigns, party organizations, and political action committees. She also served on the Republican National Committee from 1992 to 1998. Politics seems to be a family affair – Dick DeVos was the 2006 nominee for Governor of Michigan.
Before becoming Secretary of Education, DeVos served as the Chairman of the American Federation for Children, a leading advocacy group for school choice. She has made it her goal to get children trapped in schools that don’t meet their needs into schools of their parents’ choice. It is this viewpoint, among others, that made DeVos such a controversial candidate for Secretary of Education. As an advocate for school choice and as someone who attended private schools throughout her life, many believe she does not have the proper perspective to make decisions regarding the public education system. Furthermore, DeVos and her husband insisted that all of their children attend private schools, further distancing them from the school infrastructure that DeVos has now been elected to oversee.
DeVos, on the other hand, sees school choice as the primary answer to the problems that plague the American educational system. Her activism on this matter is what makes her valuable, not controversial, in her opinion (and that of many who agree with the idea of school choice). On what drove this point home to her, DeVos remembers visiting Potter’s House Christian School as a young mother. “Dick and I became increasingly committed to helping other parents—parents from low-income families in particular. If we could choose the right school for our kids, it only seemed fair that they could do the same for theirs. Dick expressed his commitment by running for the State Board of Education in Michigan; he was elected in 1990. I got involved by starting a foundation that gave scholarships to low-income families so that parents could decide where their kids would go to school.” DeVos is also a strong advocate for homeschooling and Charter schools, seeing both as valid and valuable alternatives to the traditional public school setting.
In 2010, under her encouragement, her husband founded the West Michigan Aviation Academy, a public charter high school that combines their mutual passion for education with Dick’s love of aviation. Betsy also served on the board of the Foundation for Excellence in Education and has regularly mentored through Kids Hope USA, an organization that connects adult mentors in local churches with at-risk elementary students.
DeVos has been very outspoken about her views on Common Core. She is by no means a fan of the system. She does support higher standards of learning, strong accountability, and local control. Many state that this position is hypocritical of her, because organizations that she has supported have stood behind Common Core in the past. She has stated that the concept behind Common Core is not a bad one, but that somewhere along the way “it got turned into a federalized boondoggle.”
DeVos focuses strongly on school choice, citing little else as her goal as Secretary of Education. She looks towards technology and the future for answers to this issue, stating, “One long-term trend that’s working in our favor is technology. It seems to me that, in the internet age, the tendency to equate “education” with “specific school buildings” is going to be greatly diminished. Within the right framework of legislation, that freedom will ultimately be healthy for the education of our kids.”
DeVos started a political action committee in 2001 called the Great Lakes Education Project, which funds legislation and political candidates. She and her husband have contributed quite a bit of money to this organization, which has helped grow the charter school industry in Michigan. Many see this as the Devoses buying the policy outcomes they desire, and have heavily criticized the couple for it.
DeVos’ election to the position of Secretary of Education was made largely along party lines. However, Republican Senators Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski went against the tide to vote against DeVos. Vice President Mike Pence acted as a tie breaker, securing her election.
- Betsy DeVos – Betsy DeVos Website
- Interview with Betsy DeVos – PhilanthropyRoundtable
- 11 Things You Need to Know About Betsy DeVos, Secretary of Education – Cosmopolitan
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