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Trump nominates Betsy DeVos to be U.S. education secretary

According to the Michigan Campaign Finance Network, the DeVos family has given roughly $14 million to political campaigns and causes over the last two years.
Betsy DeVos.

President-elect Donald Trump has selected longtime school choice advocate Betsy DeVos to head the U.S. Department of Education. (Presidential cabinet picks are subject to Senate confirmation. See who Trump has picked for his cabinet so far with WaPo's cabinet tracker.)

Trump’s stance on education policy has, thus far, been difficult to discern. His pick of DeVos indicates how his administration likely sees education policy going forward.

DeVos has been an ardent supporter of school choice policies, school voucher programs, and tax credits for businesses that give private scholarships.

She is tied by marriage to the DeVos family. The family owns the Amway Corporation and has been one of the largest contributors to the Republican Party in Michigan. Betsy DeVos was chairwoman of the Michigan Republican Party from 1996 through 2000.

In this video, DeVos outlines her thoughts on school vouchers - and how she financially supports candidates across the U.S. who are supportive of the school choice movement:

In a statement published by the New York Times, DeVos said she looks forward to changing education in the U.S.

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

DeVos did not openly support Donald Trump during the election, but said on Twitter today she was honored to work with him:

Reaction to the expected appointment has been strong.

Charter school advocates are excited by the appointment. This from the Michigan Association of Public School Academies:

“This is a great day for Michigan, and it’s an especially great day for the nation’s children,” Quisenberry said. “Betsy DeVos has been a champion for school children for decades, always putting their needs ahead of everything else.

Grand Rapids Public Schools Superintendent Teresa Weatherall-Neal agree with Quisenberry’s view that children are DeVos’ main concern. Weatherall-Neal says DeVos reached out to her when she became superintendent.

“Obviously she must believe in public schools. She’s been there to support me. I did not reach out to Betsy, Betsy reached out to me,” Weatherall-Neal said.

DeVos and her family have supported Grand Rapids Public Schools directly and indirectly for years; much of it going for extracurricular and parent support programs. Weatherall-Neal said DeVos offered to pay for a coach that first meeting they had over lunch.

“She's funny. She's focused on children. We talk about programs for kids. We’ve talked about personal, our families. We’ve talked about jewelry,” she laughs, “She’s just like every – all the rest of us. She wants what best for our kids.”

Weatherall-Neal says offering parents a choice where their children go to school “done the right way, doesn’t harm children.”

“I send my (GRPS) kids to the school of Aviation; children who are interested in that field,” Weatherall-Neal said, referring to the charter school DeVos’ husband Dick DeVos opened in at the airport in Grand Rapids in 2010.

“I’m never going to own a plane. I’m never going to have that type of charter school and it’s a real option. It’s a real option for my students,” she said.

Others have said the announcement is not a good sign for public education in the U.S.

David Hecker is president of the American Federation of Teachers in Michigan.

He accuses the DeVos family of using its wealth to try to “destroy” Michigan’s public schools and empower the for-profit charter sector.

“It is devastating for the children of Michigan, and it will now be devastating for the children of the United States,” Hecker said.

This from Progress Michigan:

The DeVos family education plan has been a disaster for Michigan and we are truly saddened that Trump decided to import their failed ideas to Washington D.C. Progress Michigan remains committed to holding the DeVos family accountable and fighting for all children to have access to excellent public schools.”

Statesidesat down with senior policy fellow at Public Sector Consultants, Ken Sikkema to hear his reaction to this appointment. He's a former Republican politician and Michigan Senate Majority Leader.

*This post was last updated at 7:02 p.m.

Mark Brush was the station's Digital Media Director. He succumbed to a year-long battle with glioblastoma, an aggressive brain cancer, in March 2018. He was 49 years old.
Lindsey Smith helps lead the station'sAmplify Team. She previously served as Michigan Public's Morning News Editor, Investigative Reporter and West Michigan Reporter.
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