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Betsy DeVos: 9 Facts that Sum Up Everything You Need to Know

 

Almost a week after Donald Trump announced his Secretary of Education pick, here are nine things you need to know about Betsy DeVos. 

1.She has been a school choice advocate for years and has had significant influence in making Michigan "one of the biggest school choice laboratories."

In line with Donald Trump’s major education platform, Betsy DeVos has been an advocate for school choice and vouchers for years.

In November 2000, DeVos and her husband Dick pushed a failed ballot initiative that would have given every Michigan student living in a school district that fails "to graduate at least two out of every three children" a $3,000 “opportunity scholarship" to attend a non-public school of their choice.

Despite the fact that the legislation overwhelmingly failed to pass, DeVos continued her work by leading and supporting various organizations that pushed school choice and vouchers.

In a 2013 interview with The Philanthropy Roundtable, DeVos clarified her support for school choice—and her opposition to the traditional public school system.

People are gravitating towards school choice "particularly because of the public’s awareness that traditional public schools are not succeeding. In fact, let’s be clear, in many cases, they are failing. That’s helped people become more open to what were once considered really radical reforms—reforms like vouchers, tax credits, and education savings accounts,” DeVos said.

As Education Secretary, DeVos will have an opportunity to see these more radical ideas through, an agenda she alluded to after accepting the position.

“The status quo in education is not acceptable,” she said. “Together, we can work to make transformational change that ensures every student in America has the opportunity to fulfill his or her highest potential.”

2. She is a big supporter of charter schools.

DeVos supports all forms of non-public school alternatives, including charter schools.

"Charter schools are another choice—a very valid choice. As we work to help provide parents with more educational choices, it is always with the assumption that charter schools are part of the equation. We think of the educational choice movement as involving many parts: vouchers and tax credits, certainly, but also virtual schools, magnet schools, homeschooling, and charter schools,” DeVos said in her 2013 interview with The Philanthropy Roundtable.

3. Both Democrats and Republicans are fearful she will neglect oversight after a long record of supporting deregulation.

DeVos and her family have consistently worked for deregulation of charter schools since the early 1990s.

"The DeVos influence is one reason that Michigan’s charter sector is among the least regulated in the country," said The Chalkbeat.

"Roughly 80 percent of charters in Michigan are run by private companies, far more than in any other state. And state authorities have done little up to now to ensure that charter schools are effectively serving students, eliciting concern from current federal authorities." 

This is especially concerning given a recent report from the Office of Inspector General that found that a lack of oversight of charter school networks breeds "financial risk, including waste, fraud and abuse, lack of accountability over federal funds and lack of assurances that the schools were implementing federal programs in accordance with federal requirements," said U.S. News.

"Moreover, the inspector general's report found that the Education Department did not have effective internal controls to monitor, evaluate and mitigate those risks, nor did it ensure that state departments of education were overseeing charter schools and their management organizations."

Many are worried that, given DeVos’ record of supporting deregulation, she will do little to address these concerns.

4. She has been associated with groups that support the Common Core, but has since clarified her stance to deny any support. 

"Many of you are asking about Common Core. To clarify, I am not a supporter—period," she tweeted.

5. She served on the board of Jeb Bush's Foundation for Excellence in Education and has been praised by the former presidential candidate.

"Her allegiance is to families, particularly those struggling at the bottom of the economic ladder, not to an outdated public education model that has failed them from one generation to the next," Bush wrote.

"I cannot think of 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."

Bush was one of the only presidential candidates to address education early on in his presidential run, crafting a 10-page education plan deemed innovative and insightful by many in the community. 

6. During the presidential election, DeVos initially supported Ohio Gov. John Kasich while refusing to ever support Trump.

DeVos is by no means a Trump loyalist. In fact, DeVos refused to express support for Trump even when he was announced as the Republican presidential candidate. Before the announcement, DeVos had thrown her support behind Ohio governor John Kasich.

In late July, DeVos said she continues "to be listening and observing, and I'm hopeful we are going to hear something from our nominee to convince me that I should support him [Donald Trump].” 

While DeVos is willing to work with him due to his commitment to school choice, she has made it clear he was not her first choice for President.

7. ESSA architect Lamar Alexander has expressed his support of her nomination.

Main architect behind the nation’s new education legislation, former Education Secretary and current chairman of the Senate’s education committee Lamar Alexander has expressed his support for DeVos’ nomination.

"Betsy DeVos is an excellent choice,” he said.

Alexander led a bipartisan effort to get ESSA passed, helping a desperate country leave behind the long-expired No Child Left Behind. Given that ESSA goes into effect long after the Obama administration is gone (it will go into effect next school year), the support of one of its major champions is a good sign.

8. The nation’s largest teachers' unions have spoken out against her and have reported being fearful of what’s to come.

What’s not a good sign, however, is that the nation’s largest teachers' unions are speaking out against DeVos and what they perceive will be an attack on public education in America.

"By nominating Betsy DeVos, the Trump administration has demonstrated just how out of touch it is with what works best for students, parents, educators and communities," said National Education Association President Lily Eskelsen García.

The president of the American Federation of Teachers, Randi Weingarten, made a similar statement.

"In nominating DeVos, Trump makes it loud and clear that his education policy will focus on privatizing, defunding and destroying public education in America," she said.

9. She has no direct experience in schools.

Unlike her most recent predecessors Arne Duncan and John B. King, Jr., DeVos has no professional experience working in a school or even a classroom. This concerns many who fear she will be out-of-touch when making decisions and delights others who believe she won’t succumb to influence from teachers' unions and the like.

Prior to being Education Secretary under Obama for seven years, Duncan was CEO of Chicago Public Schools.

Current Education Secretary John B. King, Jr. took over for Duncan following his resignation last year. King began his prominent career as a social studies teacher in Puerto Rico and Massachusetts, working his way up to the commissioner of education for the state of New York.

Aside from her political and advocacy experience, DeVos has no direct experience working in an education setting.

Nicole Gorman, Senior Education World Contributor

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