Devos with supporter in 2006
January 8, 1958 
|Education||Holland Christian Schools|
|Alma mater||Calvin College bachelor's degree|
|Board member of||Alliance for School Choice|
|Relatives||Erik Prince (brother)|
Elisabeth "Betsy" DeVos (née Prince) is an American politician, businesswoman, philanthropist, and education activist from the state of Michigan. She has taken a leading role in a number of social, cultural, and political campaigns and organizations; sat on many boards; and served for several years as chairman of the Michigan Republican Party. She is chairman of the Windquest Group, the Dick and Betsy DeVos Family Foundation, and the American Federation for Children, and is a member of the board of the DeVos Institute for Arts Management at the Kennedy Center.
Early life and education
DeVos grew up in Holland, Michigan, the daughter of Elsa Zwiep Prince (later, Broekhuizen) and Edgar Prince, a self-made industrialist. Edgar was the founder of Prince Corporation, an automobile parts supplier based in Holland, Michigan, which at one time employed almost one-quarter of the population of the town. DeVos' mother has been a philanthropist and has been active in conservative social causes, including support of an anti-gay marriage ballot proposal in California. DeVos' brother, Erik Prince, founded Blackwater USA, a private security firm which had operations in Iraq.
DeVos was educated at the Holland Christian High School. She graduated from Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan, where she earned a bachelor's degree in business administration and political science. At Calvin College, DeVos was "involved with campus politics," according to Philanthropy Magazine.
In 2011, DeVos and her husband, via the Windswept Group, invested in Energetx Composites, a wind energy company. They were drawn to it because it aligned with Windquest Group's clean energy focus. Windquest also invested in another Western Michigan firm, Cascade Engineering, to create a water filter used to help clean water efforts.
From 1982 onward, DeVos played many roles in the Michigan Republican Party, serving in such modest positions as that of a local precinct delegate. She was a Republican National Committeewoman for Michigan between 1992 and 1997, and served as chairwoman of the Michigan Republican Party from 1996 to 2000. In 2004, the Lansing State Journal described DeVos as "a political pit bull for most of [Gov. Jennifer] Granholm's 16 months in office, and said that if DeVos wasn't Granholm's "worst nightmare," she was "certainly her most persistent." DeVos told the newspaper that "We haven't seen a real course of action on virtually any issue or topic....Unless you continue to get ahead of the curve ... you're automatically falling behind." Bill Ballenger, editor of Inside Michigan Politics and a former Republican state senator, called DeVos "a good behind-the-scenes organizer and a good fund raiser" as well as "a true believer in core Republican issues that leave nobody in doubt on where she stands."
Calvin College Professor James Penning described DeVos as "having done an excellent job" as chairman of the Michigan Republican Party during these four years. DeVos resigned the position in 2000 because the party was "fragmented" and because then Gov. John Engler opposed her school-voucher proposal. In 2003, DeVos chose to run again for party chairman and was elected to the post without opposition. "Without having a Republican governor in office, it is a very different dynamic," she said at the time. "We will be providing counterpoints to the things that Granholm proposes and facilitate a common voice." She added, "It is clear I have never been a rubber stamp.... I have been a fighter for the grassroots, and following is admittedly not my strong suit."
A press release issued by DeVos in April 2004 blamed Michigan's economic woes on "high wages and a tax and regulatory structure that makes this state uncompetitive" leading to a backlash from members of the Michigan public who disagreed with DeVos that Michigan workers were overpaid.
DeVos raised more than $150,000 for the 2004 Bush reelection campaign, and hosted a Republican fundraiser at her home in October 2008 that was headlined by President George W. Bush. During the Bush Administration she spent two years as the Finance Chairman for the National Republican Senatorial Committee and worked closely with the Administration on "various projects."
The Dick & Betsy DeVos Family Foundation was launched in 1989. The foundation's giving, according to its website, is motivated by faith, and "is centered in cultivating leadership, accelerating transformation and leveraging support in five areas," namely education, community, arts, justice, and leadership.
DeVos was appointed by President George W. Bush to the board of directors of the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in 2004, and served until 2010. While she was on the board, she and her husband funded a center to teach arts managers and boards of directors how to fundraise and manage their cultural institutions. The couple donated $22.5 million in 2010 to continue the endeavor, which was given in the name the DeVos Institute of Arts Management. The DeVoses' gift was the largest private donation in the Kennedy Center's history.
After the announcement of the DeVoses' gift to the Kennedy Center, DeVos explained that she had been persuaded by Kennedy Center official Michael Kaiser's observation that millions of dollars are invested "in the arts, and training artists," but not in "training the leaders who hire the artists and run the organizations." The DeVoses' gift was intended to remedy this oversight. "We want to help develop human capital and leverage that capital to the greatest extent possible," she said, describing Kaiser's "practice and approach" as "practical, realistic and creative." The DeVoses' gift, part of which would be spent on arts groups in Michigan that had been hit hard by the recession, was the largest private donation in the Kennedy Center's history.
DeVos served as chairwoman of the board of Alliance for School Choice She heads the All Children Matter PAC which she and her husband founded in 2003 to promote school vouchers, tax credits to businesses that give private school scholarships, and candidates who support these causes. Over the years, DeVos and her husband have provided millions in funding for the organization.
Her other activities on behalf of public-school reform have included membership on the boards of directors of the Advocates for School Choice, the American Education Reform Council, and the Education Freedom Fund. She has chaired the boards of Choices for Children, and Great Lakes Education Project (GLEP). She has described GLEP as being "focused on supporting candidates who share a commitment to the issue of meaningful education reform," and CFC as being an "education reform watchdog organization" that is "focused on raising public awareness as to the merits of education reform."
She has also been on the boards of the Acton Institute, the American Council of Young Political Leaders, Compass Arts Board, and was finance co-chair of the American Dream PAC. According to a Florida publication, DeVos "excels in her efforts as an ambassador for governors with interest in this subject, like New Jersey's Chris Christie."
DeVos said in the Spring 2013 issue of Philanthropy magazine that she was more optimistic than ever about school choice, noting that within the previous year, "the number of students in educational-choice programs grew by about 40,000." She said that "the public's awareness that traditional public schools are not succeeding" has "helped people become more open to what were once considered really radical reforms—reforms like vouchers, tax credits, and education savings accounts."
She said that her involvement in the school-choice issue had increased gradually. A visit to the Potter's House Christian School in Grand Rapids had played a role, because the parents "were doing everything in their power to have their kids in an environment that was safe, where they were learning, and where the atmosphere was just electric with curiosity, with love for one another." Since "paying tuition was a real sacrifice" for the parents, DeVos and her husband "started supporting individual students at the school, and that grew into a larger commitment."
Later, she also started "a foundation that gave scholarships to low-income families so that parents could decide where their kids would go to school." But she and her husband realized that "while it was wonderful to help some families through the scholarship fund, it was never going to fundamentally address the real problem." It was this realization, she said, that drove them to become involved in the movement for school choice.
During the 1990s, she served on the boards of Children First America and the American Education Reform Council, which sought to expand school choice through vouchers and tax credits. She and her husband worked for the successful passage of Michigan's first charter-school bill in 1993, and for the unsuccessful effort in 2000 to amend Michigan's constitution to allow tax-credit scholarships or vouchers. She described this loss as "really tragic, because Michigan has so many families, particularly in our state's large, urban school districts, who are desperate for better educational options, and because our state constitution has some of the most restrictive language limiting educational choice in the country." In response to that defeat DeVos started a PAC, the Great Lakes Education Project, which championed charter schools. DeVos's husband and John Walton then founded All Children Matter, a political organization, which she chaired. Sometime after that she and other members of that group formed the American Federation for Children, a 501(c)(4). "Now that our efforts are better organized," she said, "it's been working really, really well."
Her biggest success with the American Federation for Children, she said, was Florida, which, thanks to its tax-credit scholarship program, "has enjoyed the nation's longest period of widespread educational choice," and thus has over 50,000 students "attending the school of their family's choice." She said that "Florida is the state we point to and say, 'If you do this well, you won't have to spend a lot of energy protecting the programs you passed. As your programs gain popularity, you can build and enhance them in a major way.'" She also referred positively to recent developments in Louisiana and Indiana.
DeVos emphasized her view that "the only way that real education choice is going to be successfully implemented is by making it a bipartisan or a non-partisan issue." She lamented that this has usually not been the case by saying, "What we've tried to do is engage with Democrats, to make it politically safe for them to do what they know in their heart of hearts is the right thing," she said. "Education should be non-partisan." She pointed to "the growing interest in educational choice among Democratic leaders."
She noted that it had been her idea for her husband to start a charter high school. "He's a pilot. He flies everything-jets, helicopters, you name it....A few years ago, I asked him, 'Why don't you combine your love of flying and your love of education? You could start an aviation school!' And that's exactly what he did. He started the West Michigan Aviation Academy, a charter high school located at the Gerald Ford Airport in Grand Rapids." She said her overall goal was that "all parents, regardless of their zip code, have had the opportunity to choose the best educational setting for their children. And that all students have had the opportunity to fulfill their God-given potential."
DeVos and Joel Klein noted in a May 2013 op-ed that residents of Maine "are now given information on school performance using easy-to-understand report cards with the same A, B, C, D and F designations used in student grades." This system, they argued, "truly motivates parents and the community to get involved by simply taking information that education officials have had for years and presenting it in a way that is more easily understood." Also, it rewards schools "for taking students who are significantly behind and moving them closer to grade level." They called for this system to be used elsewhere, for it can "provide an early warning about which schools are struggling, so that we can best target additional help and resources to those that need them the most, while further providing structural changes when persistent under-performance requires as much."
In 2008, DeVos and her husband established The Dick & Betsy DeVos Scholarship to support entering MA, MS, or MBA students at the Thunderbird School of Global Management, particularly those from developing nations.
The DeVoses have also established an annual scholarship, called the Betsy and Dick DeVos Scholars for Free Enterprise and Entrepreneurship Scholarship, which is awarded to students earning a BBA or combined BBA/MBA at Northwood University.
Foundation for Excellence in Education
DeVos is a member of the board of the Foundation for Excellence in Education (FEE), whose stated goal is to "build an American education system that equips every child to achieve his or her God-given potential." Its vision is: "An education system that maximizes every student's potential for learning and prepares all students for success in the 21st century." And its "guiding principles" are that "All children can learn," that "All children should learn at least a year's worth of knowledge in a year's time", and that "All children will achieve when education is organized around the singular goal of student success."
American Federation for Children
DeVos is Chair of the American Federation for Children (AFC), which describes itself as "a leading national advocacy organization promoting school choice, with a specific focus on advocating for school vouchers and scholarship tax credit programs." It is affiliated with the Alliance for School Choice. Launched in 2010, it operates regional offices across the country. According to one source, it "has racked up a series of successes by spending almost no money nationally, concentrating instead on the states, where media campaigns are cheaper and more manageable, and disclosure requirements are often far less stringent....For example, the federation has provided grants to the School Choice Indiana Network, Boast Alliance Maryland, and Partners for Educational Freedom in North Carolina." Among its successes are a Georgia law "reinstating a commission that authorized charter schools," a Florida committee whose attacks on Democratic attorney general candidate Dan Gelber resulted in his election loss, legislation in Virginia "calling for scholarship tax credits," and legislation in Wisconsin that created "a voucher program for children with special needs."
Affiliated with the AFC, and also headed by DeVos, is the American Federation for Children Action Fund, which has accepted donations from Walmart heirs Alice Walton and Jim Walton, among many others.
In the 1980s, Betsey married Dick DeVos, an heir to the Amway fortune, who ran its parent company Alticor, from 1993 to 2002 and was the 2006 Republican nominee for Governor of Michigan. They have two daughters, a daughter-in-law, and two sons. Their son Rick works for the Windquest Group as a consultant on urban development. They own residences in Grand Rapids and Ada in Michigan; Windsor, a community in Vero Beach, Florida; and a home on Lake Macatawa, in Holland, Michigan. They also own a yacht.
DeVos designed the interiors of the Reserve, a dining establishment on the ground floor of Windquest's headquarters in Grand Rapids. "I wanted to go into interior design years ago but a college professor was negative about it saying it would drive me crazy," she said. "I was only 17 and decided to pursue other interests. But through our restaurant effort in the Windquest building and our houses at Windsor and in Michigan, I have been able to fulfill my dreams by helping with the decor. I love it."
Dick and Betsy DeVos produced Scandalous: The Life and Trials of Aimee Semple McPherson, on Broadway in 2012. Based on the life of the famous evangelist and featuring a book and lyrics written by Kathie Lee Gifford, the show lasted three weeks, closing in December 2012.
- Chairman, All Children Matter
- Chairman, Michigan Republican Party, 2003 2005
- Member, MI Executive Committee, Bush Cheney '04
- Member, Trust Fund Board, Library of Congress 2003
- Member, Leadership Team, W Stands for Women, Bush Cheney '04
- Chairman, Great Lakes Education Project PAC, 2001-2002
- Chairman, Choices for Children, 2001-2002
- National Finance Chairman, National Republican Senatorial Committee
- Chairman, Michigan Republican State Committee, 1996-2000
- Republican National Committeewoman Michigan, 1992-1997
- Chairman, Spence Abraham for U.S. Senate Committee,1994
- Member, Board of Trustees, American Council of Young Political Leaders
- RNC Budget Committee, 1992
- Delegate, Republican National Convention, 1988, 1992, 1996, 2000
- Alternate Delegate, Republican National Convention, 1984
- Chairman, Fifth District Republican Committee, 1989-1992
- Chairman, Kent County Republican Committee, 1984-1988
- Co Chairman, Kent County Republican Finance Committee, 1983-1984
- Delegate/Alternate Delegate, Michigan Republican State Conventions
- Vice Chairman, Bush/Quayle State Steering Committee, 1992
- John Engler for Governor Committee, 1990
- Co Chairman, Bill Schuette for U.S. Senate Committee, 1990
- Co Chairman, Michigan Republican State Committee Lake Michigan Barbecue, 1988—1991
- Co Chairman, Kent County Bush/Quayle Campaign, 1988
- Delegate to China, American Council of Young Political Leaders, 1988
- Volunteer, "ScatterBlitzer" Ford for President, Kent County Republican Committee, 1976
- Member, Board of Directors, Alliance for School Choice
- Member, Board of Trustees, Kennedy Center for Performing Arts
- Member, Board of Directors, Children First America 2004
- Member, Board of Directors, American Education Reform Council, 2002
- Member, Board of Directors, Kids Hope USA
- Ministry Leadership Team, Kids Hope USA 2005
- Member, Board of Directors, Compass Arts
- Member, Board of Directors, Education Freedom Fund
- Member, Board of Directors, Acton Institute
- Co chairman, "Heartbeat" fundraiser for the American Heart Association, 1995-2002
- Member, Board of Directors, Michigan Chamber of Commerce and Executive Committee
- Member, Board of Trustees, Blodgett Memorial Medical Center, 1986-1997
- Member, Board of Directors, Grand Rapids Economic Club, 1993-1998
- President's Advisory Council, Calvin College, 1993-1995
- Member, Advisory Board, The Potter's House School
- Member, Board of Trustees, Ada Christian School, 1992-1995
- Grand Rapids Christian School Association Capital Fund Drive, 1990-1993
- Member, Michigan International Year of the Family Council, 1994
- Member, Michigan Council for the Arts and Cultural Affairs, Governor Engler Appointee, 1991-1992
- Chairman, Ada Christian School Education Foundation 1991-1992
- Member, Board of Trustees, Kendall College of Art &Design, 1986-1992
- Member, Board of Trustees, Arts Council of Greater Grand Rapids, 1990-1992
- Member, Board of Trustees, Grand Rapids Area Medical Education Committee, 1990-1991
- Member, Board of Trustees, Worldwide Christian Schools, 1988-1991
- Congressional Staff Directory, Fall 2006: 110th Congress, First Session, p. 903
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- "School choice expanding as record fine languishes". MLive.com. The Associated Press. March 20, 2011.
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- "Bio" (PDF). IEEW.org. Institute for Economic Empowerment of Women. Retrieved July 10, 2013.
- Betsy DeVos at SourceWatch
- Curt Guyette (February 23, 2000). "God bless vouchers - The DeVos family's crusade to change public education". MetroTimes. Retrieved May 23, 2011.
- Zaid Jilani (May 21, 2011). "REPORT: Meet The Billionaires Who Are Trying To Privatize Our Schools And Kill Public Education". Think Progress.
|Party political offices|
Susy Heintz (Avery)
|Chairman of the Michigan Republican Party
|Chairman of the Michigan Republican Party