Betsy DeVos, a wealthy Republican donor with almost no experience in public education, was recently confirmed as the 11th nation’s Secretary of Education, but only with the help of a historic tie-breaking vote from Vice President Mike Pence.
Despite the Democrats’ staunch opposition to DeVos, her vote was capped by a 51-to-50 vote. Short from getting a third Republican defection, this has allowed Mrs. DeVos to be in charge of the nation’s nearly 100,000 public schools.
DeVos, a Michigan native, is a passionate education activist, mostly involved in causes that prop up private and charter schools. She is married to Dick DeVos. Dick DeVos part-owned the Orlando magic basketball team at one point.
DeVos is the daughter-in-law of Richard DeVos, who was a CEO and cofounder of the beauty and nutrition giant Amway. According to Forbes, Richard DeVos and his family are worth about $5.1 billion.
Betsy DeVos is also the daughter of the late Edgar Prince, a billionaire who founded of Prince Corporation, which was involved in the highly profitable auto parts industry. DeVos’ younger brother, Erik Prince, founded the controversial government security company Blackwater USA.
The couple are longtime Michigan Republican Party activists and donors. During her nomination process, she revealed that she had made $5.3 million in political donations over the last five years, including nearly $2 million in 2016.
Advocates of DeVos called her “a brilliant and passionate education advocate.”
Trump praised DeVos, saying that she has endured a very “unfair trial.” Trump criticized the “failing schools,” echoing what he said on his campaign trail. “Millions of poor, disadvantaged students are trapped in poor, failing schools.” He believes charter schools will help solve this issue.
Many education groups who opposed DeVos’s nomination, however, pointed out her lack of experience in classrooms and public schools. She has never attended a public school nor sent her children to one.
Two Republicans, Senators Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, voted against DeVos, having the exact same concerns as the Senate’s Democratic caucus. Collins cited that she is “concerned that Mrs. DeVos’ lack of experience with public schools will make it difficult for her to fully understand, identify and assist” challenges facing rural schools.
Lily Eskelsen Garcia, president of the National Education Association, the largest educator’s organization in the country, also said “She is missing the biggest piece of the puzzle, which is to wholeheartedly support public schools as well as the needs and dilemmas of all kinds of students.”
According to an investigation by the Detroit Free Press, charter school students in Michigan actually scored lower on performance tests than students at more traditional schools. The investigation found that “roughly 150 Michigan charter schools have been around for 10 years or more and 64 percent are in the bottom half of ranked schools.”