Education Secretary Betsy DeVos can be a polarizing force in Washington, with her intentions and long-term educational goals for the United States vague and with no clear road map for struggling districts across the nation. The conservative Washington newcomer and philanthropist entered the highest echelon of politics with a limited relationship to President Trump and an empty department with no veteran employees.
In a highly anticipated Senate confirmation hearing, DeVos struggled with questions relating to measures of student success and the state of the nation’s public schools. Vice President Mike Pence later cast the tie-breaking vote, confirming DeVos as Secretary of Education, an event never before seen in a Senate confirmation hearing.
Betsy DeVos’ strongest defining position is expanding access to charter schools. DeVos’ distaste for public schools was made apparent after she visited a Washington school and remarked that the teachers were in “more of a receive mode”. DeVos’ approach to improving public schools involves capitalistic competition, with religious institutions and charter schools serving as the baseline for public schools to fight against. A proposed voucher program by DeVos would allow greater access to these institutions, in theory giving students and parents greater freedom of choice in education.
Opponents of this measure question DeVos’ motivation for expanding the opportunity of choice in education. Over the course of 30 years, DeVos has tried to repurpose tax money meant for public schools and instead invest them in charter schools. Charter schools are run by private groups, but rely on public school dollars to function, leading critics to accuse DeVos of intentionally diverting resources from public schools, thus forcing public education to balance on a dangerous precipice where students underperform, and allow charter schools to flourish.
DeVos’ position stems from her own upbringing. Elizabeth Prince was born into a wealthy family in 1958 and largely raised in the Christian Reformed Church in Holland, Michigan. She later attended Calvin College, a Christian university located in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Prince later married Dick DeVos, the wealthy founder of Amway. The DeVos’ later went on to have four children, all of whom were educated in private and religious institutions.
Despite her reluctance toward embracing the traditional public school system, DeVos called the leaders of the two largest teachers’ unions, Lily Eskelsen Garcia, and Randi Weingarten. While Garcia spurned the phone call, Weingarten returned DeVos’ call and agreed to visit schools together. This amicable first step may help bridge the ideological differences between DeVos’ and most union teachers, leading to the ultimate goal of student success.
To learn more, visit www.betsydevos.com.