Betsy DeVos, President Trump’s Secretary of Education, was raised to be soft-spoken and polite. Over the years, this has led some opponents to think she’d be a pushover. That’s far from the case. Betsy DeVos is a fighter, passionate about the causes she believes in.
Born Elisabeth Dee Prince, Mrs. DeVos grew up in a religious family in Holland, Michigan to parents of Dutch ancestry. Her billionaire father founded Prince Corporation. Since college, she has been heavily involved in both philanthropy and politics and considers herself a reformer, particularly regarding education and school choice.
Dick DeVos, her husband, is also very wealthy and politically active. While Betsy DeVos doesn’t point to any one event as triggering her longtime interest in school choice, one comment is illustrative. As extremely wealthy parents, Betsy DeVos recognized that they could afford to send their children to any schools they wished, but this wasn’t true for most parents.
During a visit to Potter’s House Christian School when their own children were young, Betsy talked to parents who had to work hard and make great sacrifices to send their children to a school where they’d learn in a dynamic, loving environment. For more than 30 years, Potter’s House had been teaching the kids of many Grand Rapids low-income families who wanted to give their kids a better education than was provided by the struggling, local public schools.
Potter’s House crystalized her thoughts on school choice with every visit the couple made to the school. They began supporting individual students. Over time, their commitment expanded. Currently, they provide a significant level of support to Potter’s House.
Betsy DeVos is committed to her belief that all parents, not only the wealthy, should be able to send their kids to the school of their choice. Her education reform efforts began with a Michigan political action committee, the Great Lakes Education Project, which advocated the spread of charter schools in Michigan. Their efforts in 2001-2 were so successful that Betsy DeVos was encouraged to believe their model would work on a national level.
After working with different political and philanthropic organizations, Betsy and Dick DeVos realized a more organized and cohesive approach was needed, resulting in the formation of the American Federation for Children, a 501(c)(4). This worked as a successful umbrella organization advocating education reform, especially school choice.
Mrs. DeVos points to an accelerating school choice movement in 17 states and the District of Columbia. A number of publicly funded school choice programs are serving more than 250,000 students. Parents living where in states with failing schools are paying attention to the options available to children in states like Florida, Louisiana and Pennsylvania.
As Education Secretary, Betsy DeVos has been a consistent, strong advocate for the expansion of charter schools, publicly funded by privately managed. She also strongly supports school vouchers, allowing parents to use public money to pay for tuition at private and religious schools. Her work has also included many controversial reforms within the public school system, including greater access to Pell grants and changes in the treatment of transgender students and sexual assaults. Whether you agree with Betsy DeVos or not, no one can deny her years of commitment to a better education for all students.
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