Is Betsy Devos Right About Choice?

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Since a narrow 51-50 confirmation as the U.S. Secretary of Education, Betsy Devos has met opposition. Known for leading the choice movement for charter schools, Devos cast doubts on her ability to lead a public school system.


People from her hometown of Michigan also took note of the contradiction. Many saw her as unprepared. A philanthropist and activist, yes. But the U.S. Secretary of Education? Not many were convinced that she was up to the task. Devos pushed for legislation in Detroit to expand charter schools. The results have been less than favorable. Detroit has one of the lowest graduation rates in the country and children have to spend hours going back and forth to school.


Additionally, it does not seem that Devos understands much about the public school system. She first demonstrated her lack of knowledge during the Senate confirmation hearings. Then she referred to historically black colleges and universities as the pioneers of school choice without realizing that the schools were created out of necessity because black students were not allowed to attend white universities.


Decades before becoming the U.S. Secretary of Education, Devos to an interest in education. Betsy Devos made her entry into the world as Elisabeth Prince, in 1958. She was raised in Holland, Michigan by a wealthy, conservative family, and attended private Christian schools. After she married her husband, Dick, the couple became politically active. Through the years, Devos became a staunch supporter of the expansion of charter schools and vouchers.


With a net worth of 5.1 billion dollars, the Devoses could send their children to any school they desired. Still, Mrs. Devos thought about the parents who did not have the same luxury. Consequently, she and her husband set up a scholarship fund to help low-income families pay tuition to the Potter’s House Christian Academy. Nevertheless, that was not enough.


To address what she believed was the real problem; she joined the boards of the AFC and ASC. In an interview about the effect of charter schools, Mrs. Devos said, “Traditional public schools are not succeeding…They are failing.” Devos believes the conversation should be aimed at creating reforms, including “vouchers, tax credits, and education savings accounts.”


Devos has been active in politics since the early 1990s. In 1993, she was instrumental in getting the first charter school bill passed in the state of Michigan. As chair of the Michigan Republican Party for six years, she helped identify potential candidates and get them elected. She also led the Great Lakes Education Project, a political action committee dedicated to expanding charter schools in the state of Michigan. According to Mrs. Devos, the program received high praise from friends, who urged her to implement the program on a national level.


Those unfamiliar with Mrs. Devos education reform and political actions may view her as timid. However, people from her home state of Michigan see her differently. Thomas Pedroni, professor of education at Wayne State University, calls Devos divisive. He believes her policies do not serve the public serve system well. However, former Republican state attorney general, Mike Cox has a different take. “In Michigan politics, she instilled fear in a lot of people, not just because she’s a billionaire. I found Betsy to be very determined and steely when she sets her mind on a goal.” Learn more:

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