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Betsy DeVos

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Betsy DeVos
Betsy DeVos official photo (cropped).jpg
11th United States Secretary of Education
Assumed office
February 7, 2017
President Donald Trump
Deputy James Cole Jr. (Acting)
Preceded by John King Jr.
Chair of the Michigan Republican Party
In office
2003–2005
Preceded by Gerald Hills
Succeeded by Saul Anuzis
In office
1996–2000
Preceded by Susy Avery
Succeeded by Gerald Hills
Personal details
Born Elisabeth Dee Prince
(1958-01-08) January 8, 1958 (age 59)
Holland, Michigan, U.S.
Political party Republican
Spouse(s) Dick DeVos
Children 4
Relatives Edgar Prince (father)
Erik Prince (brother)
Richard DeVos (father-in-law)
Education Calvin College (BA)

Elisabeth Dee "Betsy" DeVos /dəˈvɒs/ (née Prince; born January 8, 1958) is an American businesswoman, philanthropist, politician, and activist who is the 11th and current United States Secretary of Education.

DeVos is a member of the Republican Party known for her advocacy of school choice, school voucher programs, charter schools and her ties to the Reformed Christian community.[1][2][3][4] She was Republican National Committeewoman for Michigan from 1992 to 1997 and served as chairwoman of the Michigan Republican Party from 1996 to 2000, with reelection to the post in 2003. DeVos has been an advocate of the Detroit charter school system[5][6] and she is a member of the board of the Foundation for Excellence in Education. She has served as chairwoman of the board of the Alliance for School Choice and the Acton Institute and headed the All Children Matter PAC.

DeVos is married to Dick DeVos, the former CEO of multi-level marketing company Amway, and is the daughter-in-law of billionaire and Amway co-founder Richard DeVos.[7][8] Her brother, Erik Prince, a former U.S. Navy SEAL officer, is the founder of Blackwater USA.[9] DeVos is the daughter of Edgar Prince, founder of the Prince Corporation.[10][11]

On November 23, 2016, then President-elect Donald Trump announced that he would nominate DeVos to serve as Secretary of Education in his administration.[12] On January 31, following strong opposition to the nomination from Democrats, the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions approved her nomination on a party-line vote, sending her nomination to the Senate floor.[13] On February 7, 2017, DeVos was confirmed by the Senate by a 51–50 margin, with Vice President Mike Pence breaking the tie in favor of DeVos' nomination.[14][15][16]

Early life

DeVos was born Elisabeth Prince on January 8, 1958. She grew up in Holland, Michigan, the daughter of Elsa (Zwiep) Prince (later, Broekhuizen) and Edgar Prince, a billionaire industrialist,[17][18] both of Dutch ancestry.[19] Edgar was the founder of Prince Corporation, an automobile parts supplier based in Holland, Michigan.[10][17]

DeVos was educated at the Holland Christian High School, a private school located in her home town of Holland, Michigan.[20] She graduated from Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan, where she earned a Bachelor of Arts degree,[21] and was "involved with campus politics," according to Philanthropy magazine.[22]

DeVos grew up as a member of the Christian Reformed Church in North America.[23] She has been a member and elder of Mars Hill Bible Church in Grand Rapids.[24][25] Former Fuller Seminary president Richard Mouw, with whom DeVos served on a committee, said she is influenced by neo-Calvinist theologian Abraham Kuyper, a founding figure in Christian Democracy political ideology.[2]

Dick and Betsy DeVos at the October 10, 2006 gubernatorial debate in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

The DeVos family is one of Michigan's wealthiest.[26] Betsy DeVos' husband, Richard Marvin "Dick" DeVos Jr., is a multi-billionaire heir to the Amway fortune who ran Amway's parent company, Alticor, from 1993 to 2002. Dick DeVos is a major donor to conservative political campaigns and social causes,[27][28][29] and was the 2006 Republican nominee for Governor of Michigan.[17][30] Dick's father, Richard Marvin DeVos Sr., co-founded Amway and is also the owner of the Orlando Magic NBA basketball team. Richard DeVos was listed by Forbes in 2016 as having a net worth of $5.1 billion, making him America's 88th wealthiest individual.[26][31]

Betsy DeVos' brother, Erik Prince, a former U.S. Navy SEAL officer, is the founder of Blackwater USA, a private military services contractor.[17][32][33] Betsy and Dick DeVos have four grown children, two daughters and two sons: Rick, Elissa, Andrea, and Ryan.[34] Rick works for the Windquest Group[35] as a consultant on urban development.[36]

Political activity

Since 1982, DeVos has participated in the Michigan Republican Party. She served as a local precinct delegate for the Michigan Republican Party, having been elected for 16 consecutive two-year terms since 1986.[37] She was a Republican National Committeewoman for Michigan between 1992 and 1997,[38] and served as chairwoman of the Michigan Republican Party from 1996 to 2000.[39][40] 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 was not Granholm's "worst nightmare," she was "certainly her most persistent." Bill Ballenger, editor of the newsletter 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."[41] DeVos resigned the position in 2000. She said in 2000, "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."[42] In 2003, DeVos ran again for party chairman and was elected to the post without opposition.[42]

Political fundraising

DeVos in 2005

DeVos personally raised more than $150,000 for the 2004 Bush re-election campaign,[43] and hosted a Republican fundraiser at her home in October 2008 that was headlined by President George W. Bush.[44] During the Bush Administration she spent two years as the finance chairperson for the National Republican Senatorial Committee and worked closely with the Administration on "various projects."[45] The DeVos family has been active in Republican politics for decades, particularly as donors to candidates and the party, giving more than $17 million to political candidates and committees since 1989.[26][46]

The Atlantic noted that DeVos had indicated in a 1997 op-ed that she expects results from her political contributions. "My family is the largest single contributor of soft money to the national Republican Party. I have decided to stop taking offense at the suggestion that we are buying influence," she wrote. "Now I simply concede the point. They are right."[47] She also stated in the op-ed, "We expect to foster a conservative governing philosophy consisting of limited government and respect for traditional American virtues…We expect a return on our investment; we expect a good and honest government. Furthermore, we expect the Republican Party to use the money to promote these policies and, yes, to win elections."[48]

2016 U.S. presidential election

During the Republican Party presidential primaries for the 2016 election, DeVos initially donated to Jeb Bush and Carly Fiorina before eventually supporting Marco Rubio. In March 2016, DeVos described Donald Trump as an "interloper" and said that he "does not represent the Republican Party".[12]

Business career

DeVos is chairwoman of the Windquest Group, a privately held operating group that invests in technology, manufacturing, and clean energy. DeVos and her husband founded it in 1989.[22]

DeVos and her husband were producers for a Broadway run of the stage play Scandalous: The Life and Trials of Aimee Semple McPherson, in 2012, based on the life of the famous evangelist and featuring a book and lyrics written by Kathie Lee Gifford. The show ran for three weeks, closing in December 2012[49] after receiving negative reviews.[50][51]

Neurocore

Betsy and her husband Dick are chief investors in and board members of Neurocore, a group of brain performance centers offering biofeedback therapy for disorders such as depression, attention deficit disorder, autism, and anxiety.[52][53][54] The therapy consists of showing movies to patients and interrupting them when they become distracted, in an effort to retrain their brains. According to The New York Times, a review of Neurocore's claims and interviews with medical experts suggest that the company's conclusions are unproven and its methods questionable.[52] Democratic senators raised concerns about a potential conflict of interest and questioned whether she and her family members would "benefit financially from actions" she could take as education secretary. DeVos announced that she would step down from the company's board but would retain her investment in the company, valued at $5 million to $25 million.[52][55][56]

Secretary of Education

Nomination for Secretary of Education

On November 23, 2016, it was announced that DeVos was President-elect Trump's choice to be the next United States Secretary of Education. Upon her nomination, DeVos said "I am honored to work with the President-elect on his vision to make American education great again. The status quo in ed is not acceptable."[12] DeVos' nomination was generally criticized by teachers unions and praised by supporters of school choice.[57]

Detroit Free Press editor Stephen Henderson expressed concerns over DeVos' nomination, writing that "DeVos isn't an educator, or an education leader."[58][59] Rebecca Mead of The New Yorker questioned the efficacy of Michigan's charter school system, which DeVos has supported.[20] Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, called DeVos "the most ideological, anti-public education nominee" since the position became a cabinet position.[60] The Michigan chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union and the Michigan Democratic Party opposed DeVos' nomination.[57]

Former presidential candidates Jeb Bush and Mitt Romney called DeVos an "outstanding pick" and a "smart choice", respectively.[60][61] Republican Senator Ben Sasse said DeVos "has made a career out of standing up to powerful and connected special interests on behalf of poor kids who are too often forgotten by Washington." In an opinion editorial, The Chicago Tribune wrote that "DeVos has helped lead the national battle to expand education opportunities for children."[62]

Confirmation hearing

External video
Betsy DeVos Education Secretary Confirmation Hearing, full video of hearing from C-SPAN, January 17, 2017
Betsy DeVos' confirmation hearing, in three minutes, The Washington Post, January 17, 2017
Final Vote in the Senate for Confirmation of Betsy DeVos as Secretary of Education, full video of vote from C-SPAN, February 2, 2017

The confirmation hearing for DeVos was initially scheduled for January 10, 2017, but was delayed for one week after the Office of Government Ethics requested more time to review her financial disclosures.[63][64] On January 17, 2017 the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions held the hearing, which lasted three and one half hours and "quickly became a heated and partisan debate".[65] Democratic senators directed several questions toward her regarding her wealth, including questions about her family's political donations to the GOP and whether or not she had personal experience with financial aid or student loans.[65] Several media outlets reported that DeVos appeared to have plagiarized quotes from an Obama administration official in written answers submitted to the Senate committee.[66][67] DeVos drew widespread media attention during the confirmation hearings for suggesting that guns might have a place in schools due to the threat from grizzly bears.[68][69][70] DeVos' comment was later lampooned by TV personalities Kate McKinnon on Saturday Night Live, Jimmy Kimmel, Stephen Colbert, and James Corden.[71][72][73]

Prior to DeVos' confirmation, numerous senators from both parties reported tens of thousands of their constituents having contacted their offices in opposition to the confirmation of DeVos.[74] More than 300 state lawmakers from across the U.S., overwhelmingly Democrats, voiced their opposition to DeVos' appointment in a letter to the U.S. Senate sent the day before a scheduled vote on her nomination.[75] DeVos' nomination was supported by 18 Republican governors, including John Kasich and Rick Snyder, along with the nine Republican members of Congress from Michigan.[76]

Debate and final vote

Vice President Mike Pence breaks the 50–50 tie in the Senate in DeVos' favor, confirming DeVos as Secretary of Education.

On January 31, DeVos' nomination was approved by the committee on a 12–11 party-line vote and was due to be voted on by the Senate.[13] Later on February 1, 2017, two Republican senators, Susan Collins (Maine) and Lisa Murkowski (Alaska), came out against the confirmation (despite supporting DeVos in the Senate education committee when both of them voted 'yes' to approve her nomination),[77] bringing the predicted confirmation vote on DeVos to 50–50 if all Democrats and independents voted as expected, meaning Vice President Mike Pence would have to break the tie.[78] During an unusually early 6:30 AM vote on February 3, 2016, a cloture was invoked on DeVos' nomination in the Senate, requiring a final vote on the confirmation to happen after 30 hours of debate.[79]

Ahead of the scheduled final vote at noon on February 7, 2017, the Democrats in the Senate continuously spoke on the floor against the confirmation of DeVos the entire night before leading up to the vote, in protest of their strong disapproval of the nominee.[80] As expected, there was a 50–50 tie on the final vote, with all Democrats and independents, along with two Republicans (Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski), voting in opposition to DeVos, while the other fifty Republican senators voted in support of the confirmation, including Senator Jeff Sessions, who himself had been nominated by the Trump administration for the post of United States Attorney General. Republicans scheduled Sessions' confirmation vote after DeVos' so that he would be able to cast his vote in support of DeVos. Had his confirmation vote been earlier than hers, he would have been forced to resign from the Senate, therefore losing a vital vote for the Republicans on the confirmation.[81][82][83] Since there was a tie, Vice President Mike Pence had to step in to decide the vote as the President of the Senate.[84] He cast his tie-breaking vote in favor of DeVos to officially confirm her as education secretary.[85] This was the first tie decided by a vice president on any vote in the Senate since the George W. Bush administration.[86][87]

Tenure

On February 10, 2017, as DeVos made a visit to Jefferson Academy, a public middle school located in Southwest, Washington, D.C., in her first official appearance as Secretary at a D.C. public school, dozens of protesters showed up to prevent her appearance and physically blocked her from entering through the back entrance of the school. DeVos was eventually able to enter the school through a side entrance.[88][89][90]

On February 27, DeVos released a statement calling historically black colleges "real pioneers when it comes to school choice", causing controversy as some pointed out the schools originated after segregation laws prevented African-Americans from attending others. DeVos later acknowledged racism as an important factor in the history of historically black colleges.[91]

On March 24, during a visit to the Osceola County campus of Valencia College, DeVos said she was considering the extension of federal financial aid for students that were year-round and interested in placing more focus on community colleges.[92]

Philanthropy and activism

The Prince Foundation

DeVos was listed for many years on IRS form Form 990s as the foundation's vice president (hitherto called the Edgar and Elsa Prince Foundation). However she testified under oath in the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee hearing, in response to Senator Maggie Hassan's questions, that she had nothing to do with the contributions made by her mother's foundation to conservative advocacy groups including Focus on the Family and the Family Research Council.[93]

Dick & Betsy DeVos Family Foundation

The Dick & Betsy DeVos Family Foundation was launched in 1989.[94][95] 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.[96] In 2015, the DeVos Foundation made $11.6 million in charitable contributions, bringing the couple's lifetime charitable giving to $139 million.[97] Forbes ranked the DeVos family #24 on its 2015 list of America's top givers.[98]

The DeVos Foundation has donated large amounts to hospitals, health research, arts organizations, Christian schools, evangelical missions, and conservative, free-market think tanks.[99][100][101] Of the $100 million the foundation donated between 1999 until 2014, half of it went to Christian organizations.[99] Organizations funded by the foundation include: Michigan's Foundation for Traditional Values; Center for Individual Rights; Acton Institute; Institute for Justice; Center for Individual Rights; Michigan's Pregnancy Resource Center; Right to Life Michigan Educational Fund; and Baptists for Life.[95][99][100][102][103]

With respect to educational-focused donations, the foundation from 1999 to 2014 supported private Christian schools (at least $8.6 million), charter schools ($5.2 million), and public schools ($59,750).[101] Specific donations included $2.39 million to the Grand Rapids Christian High School Association, $652,000 to the Ada Christian School, and $458,000 to Holland Christian Schools.[99][101]

Acton Institute

DeVos has served as chairperson, board member, and treasurer of the Acton Institute.[3][99][104]

Arts

Kennedy Center

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.[105][106] The couple donated $22.5 million in 2010 to continue the endeavor, which was given in the name of the DeVos Institute of Arts Management.[105][106]

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".[106] 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.[107]

ArtPrize

In 2009, DeVos and her family founded ArtPrize, an international art competition held in Grand Rapids, Michigan.[34]

Education activism

Christian motivation

DeVos in 2001 listed education activism and reform efforts as a means to "advance God's Kingdom".[3][4] In an interview that year, she also said that "changing the way we approach ... the system of education in the country ... really may have greater Kingdom gain in the long run".[3]

School choice

DeVos believes education in the United States should be opened up to for-profit charter schools, and she has stated that education is "a closed system, a closed industry, a closed market. It's a monopoly, a dead end."[108] DeVos believes that opening up the education market will offer parents increased choice, a view that critics call a drive to privatize the American public education system.[108]

School vouchers

DeVos at CPAC in 2017

DeVos is known as a "a fierce proponent of school vouchers" that would allow students to attend private schools with public funding.[109] According to The New York Times, it "is hard to find anyone more passionate about the idea of steering public dollars away from traditional public schools than Betsy DeVos".[60]

DeVos served as chairwoman of the board of Alliance for School Choice.[110] Until November 2016,[111] she headed 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.[112] Over the years, DeVos and her husband have provided millions in funding for the organization. In 2008, All Children Matter was fined $5.2 million in Ohio for illegally laundering money into political campaign funds.[113][114] DeVos was not named in the case.[115] The fine remained unpaid as of 2017, prompting calls by Democratic Party lawmakers for DeVos to settle the debt.[116][117]

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.[118] She has chaired the boards of Choices for Children, and Great Lakes Education Project (GLEP).[119]

DeVos is Chair of the American Federation for Children (AFC). Affiliated with the Alliance for School Choice, the AFC 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".[120]

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,[20] and for the unsuccessful effort in 2000 to amend Michigan's constitution to allow tax-credit scholarships or vouchers. In response to that defeat, DeVos started a PAC, the Great Lakes Education Project, which championed charter schools. DeVos' husband and John Walton then founded All Children Matter, a political organization, which she chaired.[121]

Detroit charter school system

DeVos has been an advocate for the Detroit charter school system. Douglas N. Harris, professor of economics at Tulane University, wrote in a 2016 New York Times op-ed that DeVos was partly responsible for "what even charter advocates acknowledge is the biggest school reform disaster in the country". In the National Assessment of Educational Progress, Detroit had the lowest reading and mathematics scores "by far" over any city participating in the evaluation. According to Harris, she designed a system with no oversight in which schools that do poorly can continue to enroll students.[122]

Ramesh Ponnuru of National Review said that "some 47 percent of charter schools in Detroit significantly outperform[ed] traditional public schools in reading".[123] Defending DeVos' record in Michigan, Jay P. Greene, professor of education policy at the University of Arkansas, argued that Harris' New York Times article misled readers on the evidence and "falsely claimed that Detroit has failed to close failing charter schools", noting that Detroit has closed more charters than Louisiana, a state Harris cites as a model for charter school legislation.[124]

In a written response to a question about charter school performance posed during DeVos' confirmation hearing by Senator Patty Murray (D-WA), asking "why do you think their performance is so poor?", DeVos defended the charter school system using graduation rates that were significantly higher than those used for state and federal accountability purposes. DeVos provided examples of several charter schools that she said had 4-year graduation exceeding 90%. These examples were contested by Columbia University professor Aaron Pallas and Education Week reporter Ben Herold on the basis that the actual graduation rates were roughly only half as large as DeVos had stated.[125][126]

Grading system

DeVos and Joel Klein said 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."[127]

Betsy and Dick DeVos Scholars for Free Enterprise and Entrepreneurship Scholarship

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.[128]

Foundation for Excellence in Education

DeVos is a member of the board of the Foundation for Excellence in Education (ExcelinEd),[129] a think tank founded by Jeb Bush whose stated goal is to "build an American education system that equips every child to achieve his or her God-given potential".[130]

See also

References

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