Trump on Wednesday announced his intention to appoint DeVos after former Washington, D.C., schools chancellor Michelle Rhee stepped aside.
Aside from being a wife and wealthy donor to Republican campaigns, DeVos is perhaps best known as chairwoman of the American Federation for Children (AFC), a group that promotes charter schools, and pushes for what has become known as “school choice,” but is labeled by critics “privatization.”
DeVos calls this movement an attempt to “empower” parents to find good schools for their children, whether they be traditional public schools in other neighborhoods, charter schools, virtual schools or private institutions.
“Betsy DeVos is a brilliant and passionate education advocate,” Trump said Wednesday in a statement. “Under her leadership, we will reform the U.S. education system and break the bureaucracy that is holding our children back so that we can deliver world-class education and school choice to all families.”
DeVos and her husband have been proponents of “school choice” in their home state of Michigan for more than a decade, according to the Detroit News:
“In 2000, Betsy and Dick DeVos funded an unsuccessful statewide ballot initiative to amend the state Constitution to allow tax dollars to be used for private school tuition through education vouchers. They have since advocated for school vouchers in other states.”
DeVos also worked with Jeb Bush’s efforts to support Common Core, the education standards which heat first endorsed and then flip-flopped to oppose during his failed bid for the White House. That connection got her blasted, along with Rhee and other potential appointees, by the right-wing religious conservative organization, the American Family Association, in a report in Breitbart earlier this week.
“Have organizations that I have been a part of supported Common Core?” DeVos wrote on her website, apparently in response. “Of course. But that’s not my position. Sometimes it’s not just students who need to do their homework.”
Trump called Common Core a “disaster” and proposes making the current national standard curriculum “local.” The AFA’s stance on school choice does align with DeVos: “School choice is a must in order to have a thriving education system in communities across the country,” the group said in a statement.
There’s been no statement on whether DeVos will continue the current policy directing schools to allow transgender students to use bathroom and locker room facilities matching their gender identity.
This is a terrible outcome for the nations public schools. DeVos' group hit with biggest elections fine in OH history. $6.2 million. https://t.co/YX0uuH4vz5
— Stephen Dyer (@StephenODyer) November 23, 2016
Lily Eskelsen García, president of the National Education Association, issued a statement to the Detroit News denouncing DeVos for doing more to undermine public education than support students:
“She has lobbied for failed schemes, like vouchers — which take away funding and local control from our public schools — to fund private schools at taxpayers’ expense. These schemes do nothing to help our most-vulnerable students while they ignore or exacerbate glaring opportunity gaps.
“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.”
David Hecker, president of the American Federation of Teachers in Michigan, called Trump’s selection of DeVos “devastating for public education,” saying she has devoted her career to “undercutting” public education by advocating for private charter schools. He added that he felt “bad that now the remaining 49 states” which will, like Michigan, have its educational standards managed for profit.
“She wants her million and billionaire friends to profit off of childhood education,” Hecker told the paper.
And the closest billionaire DeVos knows is her father-in-law, Richard, founder of Amway fortune, with a personal fortune estimated at $4,9 billion by Forbes.
In 2014, the Huffington Post nicknamed the elder DeVos, 90, the “NBA’s Homophobe Owner” after tracing almost $2 million in donations from his family to organizations opposed to gay marriage and same-sex marriage ban campaigns between 2004 and 2009.
Earlier this year DeVos and the Orlando Magic donated $500,000 to a nonprofit set up to help the families of the 49 people killed and 53 others injured in the June rampage at Pulse nightclub.
But that contribution came after the DeVos family financed campaigns to ban same-sex marriage and steered millions of dollars to right-wing organizations, records obtained by the New York Daily News showed.