By John Celock
In a move that will rile the education establishment, President-elect Donald Trump has picked school choice advocate Betsy DeVos to serve as education secretary.
Trump made the announcement of DeVos, a former Michigan Republican Party chairwoman, Wednesday saying that she will reform education and “break the bureaucracy what is holding our children back so that we can deliver world class education and school choice to our families.” DeVos is the second cabinet pick Trump announced Wednesday, following the announcement that South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley would be the next ambassador to the United Nations.
“The status quo in education is not acceptable,” DeVos said in a statement released by Trump’s transition team. “Together, we can work to make transformational change that ensures every student in America has the opportunity to fulfill his or her highest potential.”
DeVos, a businesswoman and the wife of Amway heir Dick DeVos, has been a long time education and arts advocate. With her husband, she has been a leading donor to various charities and Republican Party causes. She chaired the Michigan Republican Party from 1996 to 2000 and again from 2003 to 2005. Dick DeVos was the 2006 Republican nominee for Michigan governor, losing to then Gov. Jennifer Granholm (D).
DeVos heads the Windquest Group, an investment firm founded by her and her husband, which focuses on energy businesses. Her and her husband’s foundation, the Dick and Betsy DeVos Family Foundation, is focused on community, education, arts, justice and leadership issues. Among the programs funded by the foundation is the West Michigan Aviation Academy, a charter school founded by Dick DeVos; a three day international arts festival and competition in Grand Rapids, the American Federation for Children; which advocates for school choice, and a pediatric oncology program.
DeVos is the chairwoman of the American Federation for Children, which has pushed for charter schools and school vouchers around the country. She has served on the boards of a variety of organizations focused on school choice issues. DeVos pushed for Michigan’s 1993 charter school law and has pushed for charter schools and voucher programs in other states, including Florida’s tax credit scholarship program. DeVos is opposed to the Common Core education standards.
DeVos has been active in arts issues and she was appointed by former President George W. Bush to a six year term on the Kennedy Center board in 2004. DeVos and her husband endowed the DeVos Institute for Arts Management at the Kennedy Center during her tenure on the board. The institute focuses on training arts leaders on fundraising and management of arts institutions. The couple’s $22.5 million donation to the Kennedy Center to fund the institute is the largest private donation in the Kennedy Center’s history.
DeVos’ selection is eliciting criticism from teacher’s union and Democratic Party officials. American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten, a frequent opponent of school choice advocates, tweeted that DeVos is “the most ideological and anti public ed nominee” in the Education Department’s 37 year history. Weingarten also called DeVos “everything Trump said is wrong in America – a wealthy heiress who uses her money to game the system.”
Michigan Democratic Party Chairman Brandon Dillon issued a statement calling DeVos a “dangerous and ill-advised pick.” He also accused Trump of “putting our entire public education system in harm’s way” by appointing DeVos.
“Here is someone, in Betsy DeVos, who has made it her life’s work to channel her family’s massive resources toward destroying Michigan’s public education system, and nor she’s about to oversee the policy and direction of education in the entire United States,” Dillon said. “She has consistently encouraged and enabled attacks on public school teachers and our children’s right to a equality public education, to line the pockets of corporate charter school investors and make her family’s extremely conservative views part of a mainstream curriculum.”