News and Commentary

7 Things You Need To Know About Betsy DeVos, Trump’s Secretary of Education Pick

President-elect Donald Trump has selected Betsy DeVos as his Secretary of Education. There are some people on the right who are cheering the pick, while others are skeptical of her. The left seems to be in a tizzy over the possibility of DeVos as Education Secretary.

Here are seven things you need to know about DeVos.

1. DeVos is a supporter of school choice. “I’m most focused on educational choice,” DeVos told Philanthropy Roundtable in 2013, per USA Today. “But, thinking more broadly, what we are trying to do is tear down the mindset that assigns students to a school based solely on the ZIP Code of their family’s home. We advocate instead for as much freedom as possible.”

The editors at National Review, who ardently support DeVos, document some of her efforts in fighting for school choice:

A decades-long education reformer, DeVos has worked quietly behind the scenes to create opportunities for every student to flourish, regardless of zip code. Those efforts started in her home state of Michigan, where in 1993 she and her husband (who, among other philanthropic roles, is on the board of the National Review Institute) helped enact the state’s charter-school law. That was a springboard for a nationwide strategy that backs legislators, candidates, and initiatives that aim to increase school choice, through the organization DeVos founded in 2010, the American Federation for Children. It is arguably the most effective education-reform organization in the country. Candidates whom DeVos has backed include former Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal and former Indiana governor Mitch Daniels, who established a statewide voucher program that his successor, Mike Pence, expanded. This year, AFC and its state-affiliated PACs were involved in 121 state-level and local races in twelve states and won 89 percent of them, everywhere from Georgia to Nevada. In Florida, the state’s teachers’ union spent $2.7 million on legislative races, about twice as much as its opponents — and pro-school-choice candidates still won 20 out of 21 state-level races.

DeVos also co-founded the West Michigan Aviation Academy–a charter school–with her husband, Richard DeVos, Jr.

However, there are some concerns about DeVos.

2. DeVos has a history of supporting Common Core. According to Conservative Review‘s Joy Pullman, DeVos’s husband vociferously lobbied against bills to repeal Common Core in the state of Michigan and supported pro-Common Core school board candidates in Alabama.

DeVos has also served on Jeb Bush’s Foundation for Excellence in Education’s board, a pro-Common Core nonprofit. Bush himself praised the DeVos pick, writing on his Facebook page, “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,” per The Daily Caller.

DeVos has denied supporting Common Core, saying that she initially supported it before turning against it once it “turned into a federalized boondoggle.” However, Michelle Malkin pointed out on Twitter:

3. DeVos doesn’t seem to support local control of education. DeVos and the Trump team have reportedly discussed that her efforts will be focused on “setting higher national standards,” which Pullman noted is “an education establishment euphemism for Common Core.”

“National standards are what Common Core was designed to be. Pursuing them is how we got Common Core,” wrote Pullman. “Setting ‘high standards’ is the job of parents and local communities, not the U.S. education nanny. Tying “high standards” to school choice is also troubling, because this is again bureaucrat-speak for “requiring all private schools to teach Common Core using the control mechanism of tests.”

“Higher national standard” of course implies that the federal government is calling the shots on education, and not state and local governments. In fact, Pullman also points out that DeVos has advocated for voucher money to be tied “to use state-determined curriculum,” which suggest that she might use federal money for vouchers tied to “higher national standards,” like Common Core.

4. DeVos opposed a 2003 Michigan initiative that would have overturned affirmative action. American Civil Rights Coalition chairman Ward Connerly put forward the initiative to counteract the Supreme Court’s decision to uphold affirmative action. Per National Review:

“I fear this ballot initiative would openly serve to further divide people along racial lines, which would be entirely counterproductive,” said GOP party chair Betsy DeVos. Worse still, the loss of Republican support also means the loss of access to the DeVos family fortune (her husband is the founder of Amway). DeVos has long been one of the biggest bankrollers of conservative causes in the state — including 2000′s nationally watched campaign for Michigan school vouchers. Without their financial muscle, Connerly supporters concede, the campaign will need to turn to out-of-state-money sources, providing ammunition to opponents who are already declaring Connerly a carpetbagger who should “go home” to California.

It’s only fitting that Trump would pick a cabinet member who had opposed an initiative to overturn affirmative action, as he once called the late Justice Antonin Scalia a racist for opposing affirmative action.

5. DeVos has admitted to using money to buy influence. “I know something about soft money, as my family is the largest single contributor of soft money to the national Republican Party,” DeVos wrote a 1997 Roll Call piece, per Pullman. “I have decided, however, to stop taking offense at the suggestion that we are buying influence. Now I simply concede the point. They are right. We do expect some things in return.”

Since she has used money to buy influence, would she then be susceptible to being influenced by money as Education Secretary? That question needs to be answered since Trump was elected to shake up the ruling class in Washington, D.C., and if DeVos were to be influenced by money, it would do little to disrupt the status quo.

6. DeVos is despised by teacher’s unions. Despite the concerns with DeVos, she does rile up teacher’s unions, per USA Today:

American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten on Wednesday called DeVos’ pick “the most ideological, anti-public education nominee put forward since President Carter created a Cabinet-level Department of Education.” Weingarten added, “In nominating DeVos, Trump makes it loud and clear that his education policy will focus on privatizing, defunding and destroying public education in America. DeVos has no meaningful experience in the classroom or in our schools. The sum total of her involvement has been spending her family’s wealth in an effort to dismantle public education in Michigan. Every American should be concerned that she would impose her reckless and extreme ideology on the nation.”

That is perhaps DeVos’s best endorsement.

7. DeVos’s husband ran against Jennifer Granholm for governor of Michigan in 2006. Richard DeVos, Jr., the son of Amway co-founder Richard DeVos, lost to Granholm by 14 points that year. Richard DeVos, Jr.’s family also owns the Orlando Magic.