Betsy DeVos has come onto the national political scene with her appointment to head the Department of Education under the new Trump administration. But for people in Michigan, the DeVos name is familiar, and both revered and feared in state-wide political circles. So what is Betsy DeVos' job? She's a hard right political activist working to replace public education with Christian, conservative, for-profit education.
DeVos is married to the son of the founder of Amway, Richard DeVos, whose family is worth an estimated $5 billion, according to Politico. The family, with Betsy leading the charge, has organized around a vision of religious education. In 2001, Betsy and Dick DeVos spoke at what's called "The Gathering," a meeting of rich Christians, and outlined their vision.
"The church — which ought to be, in our view, far more central to the life of the community—has been displaced by the public school,” Dick said onstage with Betsy, according to Politico. “We just can think of no better way to rebuild our families and our communities than to have that circle of church and school and family much more tightly focused and built on a consistent worldview.”
And over the years, the DeVos family has been willing to throw their considerable fortune behind the effort to replace public education with religious instruction.
According to Chalkbeat, the DeVos family spent $1,45 million on filling Michigan legislators' campaign war chests to keep charter schools from being regulated, despite the flow of public money to their private business. In fact, Chalkbeat added, about 80 percent of Michigan's charter schools are now run by private, for-profit companies, more than any other state, without being held accountable for student outcomes.
“There are a lot of schools that are doing poorly and charter authorizers do not seem to be taking the necessary actions to either improve performance or close those underperforming charters,” former U.S. Secretary of Education John King told Chalkbeat.
In addition to her education activism, DeVos has been a longtime political activist. According to The Atlantic, she was served as Chairwoman of the Michigan Republican Party and has largely kept to state-wide politics. Until now, where her anti-public-education worldview will be responsible for guiding the country's public schools.
DeVos, according to the New Yorker, has also served as a board member of anti-public school groups including Children First America, the American Education Reform Council, and the American Federation for Children, groups which advocate school choice vouchers and other mechanisms that allow parents to take public money out of public schools and use it to pay tuition to both charter and religious schools as well as homeschool and online education.
DeVos explained her vision this way in a 2013 interview with Philanthropy Magazine, according to the New Yorker:
That all parents, regardless of their zip code, have had the opportunity to choose the best educational setting for their children. And that all students have had the best opportunity to fulfill their God-given potential.
According to CNN, the Senate is scheduled to vote on DeVos' confirmation on Jan. 31.