Roosevelt Institute | Cornell University

Who is Betsy Devos?

By Aaron Gottesfeld and Niki SochaczevskiPublished January 1, 2017

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Get to know the newly appointed secretary of education, Betsy DeVos. Does she hold the proper qualifications? What are her intended goals as secretary of education? How will her position impact the American education system?
On February 7th, 2017, the United States Senate voted on the appointment of Betsy DeVos to the position of Secretary of Education. The vote was split 50-50, forcing Vice President Mike Pence to break the tie in favor of DeVos’ nomination, a procedure that has not been applied in nine years. However, the divided vote has left many Americans wondering about DeVos’ qualifications for the position.
           Betsy DeVos was born and raised in Holland, Michigan where she attended a private, Christian high school and received a bachelor’s degree in business administration and political science from Calvin College, a private liberal arts school. Devos’ is a committed member of the Reformed Christian community as well as the Republican Party. In addition, she comes from one of the wealthiest and powerful families in Michigan. Her father is billionaire industrialist, Edgar Prince; her husband, Dick DeVos, is the multi-billionaire heir to the Amway fortune. DeVos’ acts as the chairwoman for the Windquest Group, an investment group that she founded with  her husband in 1989.  Until 2016, she also headed a political action committee called All Children Matter, another organization that she founded with her husband in 2003.
           Even the brief biography provided above brings up various points of contention. First, neither Devos herself nor any of her four, full-grown children ever attended a public school. This tidbit has not only been upsetting to teachers unions around the nation who do not trust that Devos has enough experience dealing with or knowledge about the public school system, but also explains the American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten’s opinion that, “In nominating DeVos, Trump makes it loud and clear that his education policy will focus on privatizing, defunding and destroying public education in America”. For DeVos, the solution to underperforming schools is to invest more tax dollars into school choice. School choice is an idea that supports the creation of for-profit charter schools and tax-credit scholarships. The logic is that charter schools offer more academic and extracurricular opportunities to children who would otherwise not be able to afford a private school. The issue is that while they spend a lot more money, charter schools do not always succeed in producing better results and they tend to inflate students’ grades.
           Second, many Americans are apprehensive about President Donald Trump’s strategy to “run the country like a business”. Appointing a secretary of education who has a degree in business, as opposed to education, has only strengthened the American sentiment. Not to mention that even DeVos’ business involvements have been questionable. In 2008, All Children Matter was fined $5.2 million for illegally laundering money into political campaign funds, a debt that has yet to be settled.
           Third, it is no secret that DeVos is quite wealthy. While her fortune may be uncomforting to some, the real concern is what she and her family have chosen to do with the money. Chad Griffin, president of the an LGBT rights advocacy group,the Human Rights Campaign, released the following statement, “The DeVos family has a long, well-documented history of funding organizations dedicated to undermining and restricting the right of LGBTQ people”. In contrast to the Obama administration which routinely urged schools to implement anti-bullying policies to protect LGBT students and defended the right of transgender students to use the bathrooms and locker rooms of their choice, DeVos’ appointment worries the greater LGBTQ community.
    To conclude, though the newly appointed Secretary of Education may have some debateable credentials and opinions, hope prevails as she has yet to release any official plans to reform the education system, a promise Trump made during his campaign. Noting that this post spoke mainly about her downfalls, there are many who remain extremely supportive of DeVos. Conservative Republican Senator Lamar Alexander said that DeVos was “an excellent choice” for the position and countless others believe that she will make a positive impact on the currently struggling American public education system.