In what may have seemed like a character-defining response by U.S. Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos, under the Trump administration, Ms. DeVos showed what could have been misconstrued as acquiescence to President Trump’s rescindment of an existing federal policy that allowed transgender students to choose which bathrooms matched their gender identities.
While DeVos expressed no public disagreement with the Trump administration on the move, it was widely known that she had already objected to it.
Nevertheless, her years of determined activism as a Republican donor and chairwoman of the Michigan Republican Party, successfully advocating for national education reform in the form of school vouchers and charter schools, make clear she is an effective and dedicated political fighter.
In addition, she also arrived in Washington DC with few connections and relatively little experience in government. And her disagreement with the policy rescindment put her at odds with more experienced and connected government constituents, leaving her no option but to learn on the job.
Betsy DeVos also has resources to draw upon. She’s the daughter of the founder of a billion-dollar auto-parts company in West Michigan. Her husband, Dick DeVos, is also an heir to the Amway company fortune.
Regarding Betsy DeVos’s position as Secretary of Education and her continued efforts in educational reform around the country, opponents have criticized her lack of direct interaction or experience with the public school system. DeVos’s education came from private schools.
Opponents also regard her efforts to divert tax dollars from public schools to privately run and independent charter schools and vouchers for private and religious schools as an effort to end public education through lack of funds.
Supporters, nevertheless, state that these alternative options present competition and drive public schools to improve while giving poorer families more choice.
DeVos herself believes charter schools should remain independent, saying that higher-performing schools will ultimately be selected by parents and the free market. In addition, proposed state legislation intending to provide for new charter schools while closing underperforming ones was successfully defeated with the help of DeVos’s Great Lakes Education Project group.
As it is, Detroit now has the most charter schools of any region in the nation. And while many are low-performing, Detroit public schools also continue to decline. DeVos claimed they should be closed.
Nevertheless, at her confirmation hearings, DeVos observed that most students in the country would continue to attend public schools.
Supporters have claimed that she is simply taking on the hard questions about what to do with the country’s education system, which continues to rank below developed countries elsewhere in the world.
One of her first moves as secretary was to reach out to leaders of teachers’ unions and the National Education Association to plan school visits. Supporters also believe actions like these illustrate the boldness and determination of an experienced political player.