Donald Trump has nominated extensive Republican donor and staunch school choice advocate Betsy DeVos to be his Education Secretary.
Her family’s net worth is in the billions of dollars. It took Vice President Mike Pence to get DeVos’ nomination through the U.S. Senate though. He broke a tie to make her a member of Trump’s cabinet, after two Republicans defected and Democrats pushed back hard on her nomination because she’s supported school vouchers in the past.
DeVos adds gender diversity to Trump’s cabinet. Her selection, announced on November 23, came the same day Trump picked South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley to be ambassador to the UN. Devos has powerful family ties; her husband is the heir to a $5 billion fortune and her brother is Blackwater founder and U.S. Navy Seal Erik Prince.
The choice of DeVos has been criticized by groups on both sides of the political spectrum because she has assisted groups that both advocate for school choice but also Common Core (although she called it a “federalized boondoggle.”) She and her family are such significant donors to Republican causes that The Hill wrote this July that DeVos “belongs to arguably the most powerful family of political donors in America.”
On her website, DeVos calls herself an “education reform advocate empowering parents to choose the best education for their children.”
Here’s what you need to know:
1. DeVos Is a Republican Party Activist Whose Family Donates Significant Money to Republicans
According to her biography on the Foundation for Excellence in Education website, DeVos has been “active in Republican politics since college,” serving as elected chairman of the Michigan Republican Party four times between 1996 and 2005.
She has also held “numerous leadership roles with campaigns, party organizations, and political action committees,” the website says.
The website says DeVos is Chairman of The Windquest Group (TWG). “TWG is a Michigan-based, privately held enterprise and investment management firm with diversified projects in technology, manufacturing, clean-tech and nonprofit solutions,” says the website.
The DeVos family has given extensively in campaign finance donations. According to the Michigan Campaign Finance Network, during one 56-day period alone this summer,”DeVos family members have made $1.45 million in disclosed contributions to Michigan candidates, state PACs, and Republican party organizations in Michigan.”
The network added that, “DeVos family members have given $178,200 to 20 Republican State House candidates over the last two months.” During the 2013-2014 election cycle, “MCFN tracked a total of $4.9 million in contributions by members of the DeVos family, making the family the largest individual or family group of donors in Michigan for that cycle.”
The Washington Post says, in 2016, the family gave $2.7 million to the Republican Party, its candidates and PACS.
The Hill said “no family in conservative politics donated more” money directly to political campaigns in 2015.
Betsy DeVos was lukewarm at first on Trump, however, supporting John Kasich and telling The Hill this summer that she opposed Hillary Clinton but had not yet “got there” on Trump.
2. DeVos Is a Strong Advocate For Charter & Choice Schools
According to CNN, DeVos is the chair of the American Federation for Children, a group that supports charter schools.
The Hill says of DeVos, “lately her main focus has been advocating for school choice.”
The Detroit News called DeVos “a national leader in the school choice movement,” saying she has called it an attempt to “’empower’ parents to find good schools for their children, whether they be traditional public schools in other neighborhoods, charter schools, virtual schools or private institutions.”
On her website, DeVos describes the American Federation for Children by saying it is “the nation’s leading school choice advocacy group” and adding that she “has been a national leader in the fight to boldly reform America’s broken education system by giving parents more options for their children’s education.”
According to her website, DeVos’ husband, Dick, founded the West Michigan Aviation Academy, a public charter high school “that combines their mutual passion for education with Dick’s love of aviation.”
3. Some Republicans Are Unhappy That DeVos Was on the Board of an Organization Supporting Common Core
DeVos was on the board of the Foundation for Excellence in Education, which CNN says was a group led by former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush that “promoted both school choice and the Common Core education standards.” The latter has concerned some conservative activists who oppose Common Core.
Trump has pledged to get rid of Common Core.
However, DeVos wrote on her website of Common Core, “Certainly. I am not a supporter—period. I do support high standards, strong accountability, and local control. When Governors such as John Engler, Mike Huckabee, and Mike Pence were driving the conversation on voluntary high standards driven by local voices, it all made sense.”
She added, “Have organizations that I have been a part of supported Common Core? Of course. But that’s not my position. Sometimes it’s not just students who need to do their homework. However, along the way, it got turned into a federalized boondoggle.”
DeVos concluded, “Above all, I believe every child, no matter their zip code or their parents’ jobs, deserves access to a quality education.”
4. DeVos Has Strong Ties to the Christian Reformed community in Michigan & Her Brother Founded Blackwater
When he announced DeVos’ selection, Trump said he hoped she would reform the educational system.
According to The Washington Post, “the DeVos name is synonymous with key philanthropic efforts in Christian communities.” The Post says Betsy Devos belongs to Mars Hill Bible Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and is “heavily influenced by Abraham Kuyper, a Dutch writer and Calvinist theologian.”
Those who know her told the Post she was unlikely to focus on hot-button issues like creationism or evolution, calling her a “free-enterprise conservative” concerned about the public good.
Betsy is the daughter of an industrialist named Edgar Prince. The Washington Post says her mother has “supported anti-gay marriage efforts in the past” but Besty DeVos has not been “publicly involved” in that issue.
Her brother, Erik Prince, founded Blackwater, the controversial and now defunct security group that, according to The Washington Times, was a “mercenary firm” that “gained infamy during the Iraq War for incidents involving civilian casualties.”
DeVos must be confirmed by the U.S. Senate.
5. DeVos Is a Grandmother & Mother Whose Husband Is Heir to a $5.1 Billion Fortune
The Excellence in Education bio says DeVos and her husband, Dick, have two daughters, two sons, and a granddaughter. She serves or has served on national and local boards including the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, American Federation for Children, ArtPrize, Mars Hill Bible Church, and Kids Hope USA, says the bio.
Dick DeVos – who ran unsuccessfully for Michigan’s governor in 2006, is the son of Richard DeVos Sr., the billionaire co-founder of the company Amway. According to Forbes, Richard Devos Sr. is worth $5.1 billion and first sold cleaners door-to-door.
Richard DeVos Sr. owns the Orlando Magic.
Betsy and Dick Jr. have a $10 million waterfront home, said MLive.
According to a Grand Rapids, Michigan blog, Richard DeVos Sr. “was active in the efforts to build the early Christian right in the mid-1970s and was an endorser of a Third Century Publishers political manual. Third Century was one of the first hard-line Christian Right groups focused on electing real Christians to office.”
Born in Michigan and a lifelong resident of that state, according to her website, Betsy DeVos is a graduate of Holland Christian High School and Calvin College, the bio says.