A closer look at Betsy DeVos

Michigan native's career has focused on education, energy, politics, art

Betsy DeVos testifies at her confirmation for President-elect Donald Trump's education secretary on Jan. 17, 2017.

Education, art and clean energy in Michigan have all gotten money from Betsy DeVos and her family.

With DeVos poised to become President Donald Trump’s secretary of education, here’s a look at what she’s done in Michigan:

In 1989, the Dick and Betsy DeVos Family Foundation was founded. The foundation’s website says its “giving is centered in cultivating leadership, accelerating transformation and leveraging support” in five areas: community, education, arts, justice and leadership.

According to the foundation’s 2015 report on giving, Michigan-based organizations and programs received the largest contribution from the foundation—48 percent of the money given that year.

Education

While education reform has received the smallest contribution amount, in Michigan, the DeVos family has pushed heavily for school of choice and voucher programs.

In 2001, the DeVos family founded the Great Lakes Education Project (GLEP). GLEP “is a bi-partisan, non-profit advocacy organization supporting quality choices in public education for all Michigan students,” according to the project’s website.

GLEP believes parents should be able to choose the schools their children attend. School vouchers are included in such category. Vouchers, or certificates of funding from the government, are used so that students can attend schools other than public schools.

According to contribution records, DeVos and her family regularly contribute to the GLEP PAC.

DeVos believes school of choice would work well for districts like Detroit Public Schools. In a September 2016 letter to the Detroit Free Press, DeVos wrote, “Based on enrollment figures for Detroit, the vast majority of Detroiters agree with us, as they are already choosing schools outside of DPS that work for their children."

When discussing DPS with the Washington Examiner last year, DeVos said, “It's not a matter of school buildings. It's a matter of each child's opportunity to have a great education.”

Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder supported DeVos in a letter to the Detroit News last week. Snyder wrote, “Contrary to the misleading picture the teachers unions are trying to paint, she shares her support for school choice with several fair-minded and prominent Democrats, including Barack Obama’s two education secretaries, John King and Arne Duncan.”

In a statement released after DeVos’ nomination for education secretary was announced, Michigan Lt. Gov. Brian Calley said, “Betsy’s nomination shows that President-elect Trump is serious about building an education system that puts kids first.”

In 2010, DeVos encouraged her husband Richard DeVos as he founded the West Michigan Aviation Academy. The school is a tuition-free public charter high school in Grand Rapids, Mich.

Politics

DeVos was elected chairman of the Michigan Republican Party four times and has served on the Republican National Committee. DeVos and her family have financially supported Michigan Republicans heavily. According to the Michigan Campaign Finance Network, in the past 10 years, the DeVos family has given at least $6.1 million directly to the Michigan Republican Party, about $752,200 to the Senate Republican Campaign Committee and about $1.1 million to the House Republican Campaign Committee.

While now Trump’s pick for secretary of education, in an interview published by the Washington Examiner in March 2016, DeVos continually mentioned her support of Marco Rubio and said, “I don't think Donald Trump represents the Republican Party.”

Art

Focusing on another area the Dick and Betsy DeVos Family Foundation cites as a passion, each year the DeVos family hosts ArtPrize in Grand Rapids. The event is an international art competition.

Energy

Betsy and Dick also own a private investment group, the Windquest Group. According to the Windquest website, its specialties include technology, manufacturing, clean-tech industry, hospitality and non-profit solutions.

In line with the group’s specialties, Windquest provided money to Energetx Composites in 2011. At the time, Energetx was a start-up. It provides composite components for wind energy, defense, aerospace and transportation.

DeVos cleared a hurdle Tuesday en route to becoming Trump’s education secretary with the Senate panel’s approval. The full Senate will have to make the final decision. While she has advocated for education hard in Michigan, as well as other states such as Maine, much controversy surrounds her qualifications, as well as her views. 

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