Betsy DeVos, President Trump’s education secretary, may seem like a controversial choice to some. Ms. DeVos grew up in the Christian Reformed Church in Holland, Michigan and attended primarily Christian educational institutions. Ms. DeVos later went on to marry Dick DeVos, the CEO of Amway. Beginning in 1989, Ms. DeVos went on to run the Windquest Group, a company that invests in clean energy, manufacturing, and technology and served as the Michigan Republican Party chairwoman. However, her philanthropic efforts have garnered Ms. DeVos the most attention, particularly her dedication to charter schools and vouchers, which would allow students to pursue private, and oftentimes religious, schools.
However, in the political sphere, Ms. DeVos’ philanthropic generosity and lack of solid political experience should not be dismissed as naivety. Shortly before President Trump announced that he would rescind an Obama era federal policy which would allow transgender students to use the bathroom of the gender they aligned with, Ms. DeVos met with transgender and gay employees of the Education Department to warn them of the upcoming announcement and assure them that this decision was not hers, even though she later appeared alongside President Trump when he made the announcement. Ms. DeVos would later address the Conservative Political Action Committee, calling the controversial bathroom bill “a very huge example of the Obama administration’s overreach.”
Ms. DeVos’ penchant for having a gracious presence in public while still pursuing an opposite personal agenda is already well known in Washington. Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, stated “There is a real tendency to underestimate her. She comes across as personable, plain spoken, but she is dangerous.”
Opponents have cited Ms. DeVos and her children’s inexperience with the public school system, as well as her penchant to try and steer tax dollars away from public schools as a red flag for filling the role as education secretary. Her free market approach to education dictates that for profit educational institutions should exist without any performance standards as long as there is a market demand for them. Additionally, Ms. DeVos has stated that failing Detroit public schools should simply shutter their doors in lieu of government assistance or intervention.
Indeed, her combative attitude towards public schools was further illustrated after a visit to a Washington DC school where she remarked that teachers were “in more of a receive mode” and “waiting to be told what they have to do.” Additionally, Ms. DeVos’ Senate confirmation hearing further illustrated her knowledge of the public school system and made for ample late night fodder. She was later confirmed with a vote of 51-50 and a tie breaking vote from Vice President Pence, a first that no Secretary has yet to experience.
Ms. DeVos reached out to leaders of two major teachers’ unions, and although one has declined, Ms. DeVos does not appear to be deterred by the opposition. Greg McNeilly, a political operative who worked with DeVos affirmed this, stating “people in Washington will find out opposition only emboldens her.”
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