Trump picks charter champion for education secretary
Education | Betsy DeVos is a longtime Republican donor and advocate for school choice
by Leigh Jones
Posted 11/23/16, 03:48 pm
School choice advocates are giving President-elect Donald Trump an A-plus for his education secretary pick, but opponents of Common Core are much less enthusiastic.
Betsy DeVos, a longtime Republican donor and charter school champion, was considered a supporter of the much-maligned standards. In a tweet following her nomination announcement, she attempted to allay concerns: “Many of you are asking about Common Core. To clarify, I am not a supporter—period.”
In a Q&A on her website, DeVos acknowledged some organizations she’s joined with have supported Common Core.
“But that’s not my position,” she said. “Sometimes it’s not just students who need to do their homework. However, along the way, it got turned into a federalized boondoggle. Above all, I believe every child, no matter their ZIP code or their parents’ jobs, deserves access to a quality education.”
During the campaign, Trump pledged to get rid of Common Core, although last year’s Every Student Succeeds Act places that decision in the hands of state education leaders.
In announcing DeVos’ nomination, Trump vowed again to bring big changes to the Department of Education.
“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,” Trump said.
DeVos echoed the need for change: “The status quo in education is not acceptable.”
In addition to her support for charter schools, DeVos has been a vocal advocate for school vouchers. She leads the advocacy group American Federation for Children and sits on the board of the Jeb Bush–led Foundation for Excellence in Education.
Bush, long an opponent of Trump, cheered DeVos’ nomination as an “outstanding pick.”
“She has a long and distinguished history championing the right of all parents to choose schools that best ensure their children’s success,” Bush said in a statement. “Her allegiance is to families, particularly those struggling at the bottom of the economic ladder, not to an outdated public education model that has failed them from one generation to the next.”
DeVos married into a wealthy Michigan family known for its involvement in Republican politics. Her husband, Dick, is an heir to the Amway fortune and one of the company’s former presidents. In addition to backing GOP politicians and causes, the couple supports arts initiatives, giving $22.5 million to Washington’s Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in 2010. At the time, it was the largest donation in the center’s history.
Lindsey Burke, an education expert with The Heritage Foundation, said DeVos’ nomination gave school choice advocates a voice in Trump’s administration.
“This is a great opportunity to help advance efforts to grow choice in the District of Columbia, to establish choice options in areas where the federal government currently manages schools, such as Bureau of Indian Affairs schools, and to lend support to efforts to give states options on making existing federal funds more flexible,” Burke said. “She will also be a welcome rhetorical support for state efforts to advance school choice all across the country.”
During the campaign, Trump pledged to drastically downsize the Education Department, a plan Burke urged DeVos to carry out.
Rick Hess, director of education policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute, also applauded DeVos as a “strong pick” and a “promising sign.”
“She’s a principled conservative with a healthy skepticism of Washington, a passion for expanding educational options, and a deep understanding of the issues,” he said.
But the American Federation of Teachers issued a strong rebuke of DeVos, calling her “the most ideological, anti-public education nominee put forward since President [Jimmy] Carter created a Cabinet-level Department of Education.” DeVos’ nomination guarantees Trump’s “education policy will focus on privatizing, defunding, and destroying public education in America,” federation president Randi Weingarten said.
Despite concerns about where DeVos stands on Common Core, Trump spokesman Jason Miller told reporters the president-elect’s position hasn’t changed: “Anybody joining the administration is signing on to the president-elect’s platform and vision for moving America forward.”
Leigh lives in Houston with her husband and daughter. She is the news editor for The World and Everything in It and reports on education for WORLD Digital.