Education Secretary Betsy DeVos may be a lifelong Republican, but she differs from the President and hard-right leaders like Jeff Sessions on many issues. Recently, the Trump Administration rescinded the Obama-era transgender bathroom bill. Mrs. DeVos opposed this move, believing the policy was fair and helpful. Though the administration sided against her on that issue, people familiar with her political life in her home state of Michigan say you can expect Mrs. DeVos to remain a fierce advocate for her beliefs throughout her Washington tenure.
Mike Cox, a Republican and former state attorney general, said, “In Michigan politics, she instilled fear in a lot of people, and it’s not just because she’s a billionaire. I found Betsy to be very determined, steely, when she sets her mind on a goal.”
Mrs. DeVos comes from a wealthy Michigan family and is married to one the richest men in the state. Her educational background is from all private schools, a gripe of political opponents, who decry her lack of experience in public education. She strongly believes in the value of private education. For many decades, she has used her political influence in Michigan to advocate for using public money to help parents send children to private schools through programs like school vouchers. She has also advocated for allowing private enterprise to run schools with the free market (parent’s choice) determining each school’s success.
Her efforts have resulted in Detroit having the most charter schools in the country. Though publicly gracious, she is known as a tough political fighter in Michigan. She is known to get results. She is also known for an intense ideological focus.
In a recent interview with Philosophy Roundtable, Mrs. DeVos expressed her optimism about the school-choice movement. She noted that there are over 250,000 American students enrolled in 33 publicly funded private-choice programs. These programs are spread across 17 states. She credits a rise in private-choice program enrollments to the public awareness of the poor quality of many public schools and the available alternatives.
Mrs. DeVos also indicated that she became interested in educational free choice during her school years and as she raised her children. She visited low-income private schools and empathized with parents who struggled to provide a good education for their children. Her husband felt the same way and got elected to the Michigan School Board in 1990. While her served, she started a scholarship for low-income families but realized that was not enough.
She became politically active and rose to become the chair of the Michigan Republican Party. She also founded the Great Lakes Education Project, which raises awareness for and creates charter schools across Michigan. She currently chairs a private-education advocate group called the American Federation for Children. She has taken her movement nationwide and touts Florida as her biggest success because of its wide private school options with high student enrollments.
Mrs. DeVos was raised in Holland, Michigan, where she attended private school. She graduated from Calvin College, a private Christian college in Grand Rapids, Michigan. While in college, she met Dick DeVos, one of the heirs to the Amway fortune. They married and have four children. She was appointed secretary of education by then president-elect Trump in November, 2016.
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