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Michigan's experience will be argued in Betsy DeVos hearing

Betsy DeVos
Betsy DeVos will have her confirmation hearing this week to head the Department of Education.

Michigan billionaire Betsy DeVos faces questions this week on her work to advance school choice and charters. She is to appear at a Senate confirmation hearing as President-elect Donald Trump’s choice to be the next U.S. Education Secretary.

The hearing was originally scheduled for last week, but was postponed because DeVos' ethics review had not been finalized and there were possibly scheduling conflicts with other hearings.

The former state Republican Chairwoman is an advocate for school choice and charter schools in Michigan, which will be an issue in the hearings.

The results posted by charter schools in Michigan are mixed. Charter schools overall show results no better than traditional public schools.

But DeVos spokesman Ed Petru says Michigan does not allow public funds to go to private or religious schools.

“Well, Michigan is, of course, an atypical case because of the restrictions it has on school choice that are built into the Constitution,” says Petru.

DeVos backed a proposed amendment to the Michigan Constitution to allow public funds to go to private and religious schools. It was soundly rejected by voters in a statewide election 17 years ago.

Opponents are attacking her record, but Petru says she will stand by her support of school choice and charters.

“If you had to put your finger on one name who was most synonymous with the expansion of school choice, it would be Betsy DeVos,” he says.

Facing opposition

Many are worried that a DeVos appointment could hurt public schools.

Lonnie Scott is with Progress Michigan – a collection of progressive groups that includes teacher unions. He says the DeVos family has used its money to undercut public education in favor of charters.

"They have admitted that their donations often buy influence," Scott says. "And so that’s what I think we can really expect from DeVos as education secretary is to try to dismantle public schools."

As to whether DeVos will act differently if she is given the federal position, Scott isn't optimistic.

“The DeVos family has long pushed for vouchers and unaccountable charter schools here in the state, and I expect that will be the same, just on a national scale, as education secretary.”

DeVos was nominated by President-elect Donald Trump, whom she refused to support in the election last year.

The hearing begins at 5:00 p.m. tomorrow. You can watch it live here at that time.

Rick Pluta is Senior Capitol Correspondent for the Michigan Public Radio Network. He has been covering Michigan’s Capitol, government, and politics since 1987.
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