Betsy DeVos and her Education Reform Programs

Betsy DeVos has been a political force for over three decades. She became politically active during her time as an undergraduate student at Calvin College, a Christian institution of higher learning located in Grand Rapids, Michigan. After graduation, she advanced from campus politics to Michigan state politics. Her experience includes running campaigns, party organizations, and political action committees. She then served as chairperson of the Michigan Republican Party for six years.


Her husband, Dick DeVos, has also been politically active. In 2006, he won the Republican nomination for Michigan governor. The DeVoses are both successful business people, in addition to their political activities. They are great believers in philanthropy and have devoted large resources to causes they believe in deeply. For Mrs. DeVos, education is a top priority. She believes in equality in education and supports assisting families with school choice, seeing the importance of parents ability to choose their children’s educational path.


Recently, Philanthropy Roundtable interviewed Mrs. DeVos regarding educational reform and school choice. In the interview, Mrs. DeVos discussed the state of the school-choice movement, her experiences as a champion of the movement, and what she sees as promising strategies for the movement. Her goal is to achieve educational opportunities for all children, regardless of their zip codes, so that all students are able to reach their God-given potential.


Mrs. DeVos indicated that she is more optimistic about the school-choice initiative than ever before. She noted that there are 250,000 students across the country in publicly funded, private-choice programs. These students are enrolled in 33 publicly funded programs in 17 states and the District of Columbia.


Of the 250,000 students, 40,000 were freshly enrolled in publicly supported school-choice programs in the past year, indicating a healthy growth rate for the movement. Since 2012, several states have started new programs, including Louisiana, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Mississippi, and New Hampshire. Mrs. DeVos credits the public’s increased awareness of the weaknesses of public school systems. She notes that more parents have become aware that many public schools are failing. As a result, reforms once considered radical, such as vouchers, tax credits, and educational savings accounts, are becoming more mainstream.


During the interview, Mrs. DeVos recalled how her experience visiting the Potter Christian School in Grand Rapids shaped her views about education and school choice. She visited there with her husband, Dick DeVos, when both were just getting started in politics. They saw how hard the parents worked and how much they sacrificed to provide a good education for their children. She also saw how much the education at Potter benefitted the students. Since then, she has worked tirelessly to broaden educational opportunities for all students.


For the future, Mrs. DeVos sees technology helping to break down the barriers that contribute to educational inequality. She wants to see the old mindset of schooling being selected by zip code replaced with a mindset of schools being chosen by parents based on their children’s needs. Technology offers promise in breaking down geographical barriers, which Mrs. DeVos sees as key to creating freedom of choice in education.


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