President-elect Donald Trump today nominated controversial school-choice activist and billionaire Betsy DeVos to head the U.S. Education Department.
A high-profile Republican donor from Michigan, DeVos is a polarizing nominee as she's devoted her efforts to creating escape routes from public schools. DeVos, 58, is married to Dick DeVos, the former president of Amway and of the Orlando Magic NBA franchise . He once ran unsuccessfully for governor of Michigan. Amway was founded by his father.
Betsy DeVos leads the American Federation for Children, which describes its mission as "promoting school choice, with a specific focus on advocating for school vouchers, scholarship tax credit programs and Education Savings Accounts. ... We believe public education must be defined as providing families with the public funding they need to choose the education they determine is best for their children."
According to the Detroit Free Press:
DeVos' background is a fit for Trump's plans to boost school choice in the U.S., particularly for high-poverty students. She is on the board of directors for the Great Lakes Education Project, which advocates for school choice and charter schools. DeVos and her husband led a failed effort to amend the Michigan constitution to provide vouchers that would allow students to attend private schools at public expense. That's a centerpiece of Trump's education plan. He would invest $20 billion in federal money toward school choice, and expect states to kick in $110 billion of their own money, to provide $12,000 each in school choice funds to the 11 million school-age children living in poverty.
"Under her leadership we will reform the U.S. education system and break the bureaucracy that is holding our children back so that we can deliver world-class education and school choice to all families," said Trump.
Here are two distinctly different reactions to the selection of DeVos.
Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush said:
Betsy DeVos is an outstanding pick for Secretary of Education. She has a long and distinguished history championing the right of all parents to choose schools that best ensure their children’s success. Her allegiance is to families, particularly those struggling at the bottom of the economic ladder, not to an outdated public education model that has failed them from one generation to the next.
I cannot think of a more effective and passionate change agent to press for a new education vision, one in which students, rather than adults and bureaucracies, become the priority in our nation’s classrooms. I congratulate Betsy and look forward to her bold leadership at the U.S. Department of Education.
National Education Association President Lily Eskelsen García said:
Every day, educators use their voice to advocate for every student to reach his or her full potential. We believe that the chance for the success of a child should not depend on winning a charter lottery, being accepted by a private school, or living in the right ZIP code. We have, and will continue, to fight for all students to have a great public school in their community and the opportunity to succeed no matter their backgrounds or circumstances.
Betsy DeVos has consistently worked against these values, and her efforts over the years have done more to undermine public education than support students. She has lobbied for failed schemes, like vouchers — which take away funding and local control from our public schools — to fund private schools at taxpayers’ expense. These schemes do nothing to help our most-vulnerable students while they ignore or exacerbate glaring opportunity gaps. She has consistently pushed a corporate agenda to privatize, de-professionalize and impose cookie-cutter solutions to public education. By nominating Betsy DeVos, the Trump administration has demonstrated just how out of touch it is with what works best for students, parents, educators and communities.
Educators will continue to focus on raising their voices in support of their students and against any effort by the Trump administration to undermine the educational opportunity of all public school students.