Betsy’s Sometimes Controversial Vision for American Education

Even as a young student at Calvin College in the 70s, Betsy DeVos was an active participant in student government. Her road from there to the role she plays as the current U.S. Secretary of Education is one that many could have predicted. Her persistence in advocating for schools that serve all Americans equally is the kind you only follow when you have a heartfelt belief.


Raised in Holland, Michigan, young Betsy belonged to the Christian Reformed Church. Her decision to attend a college with a deep Protestant tradition underscores the conservative values that have enabled her relationship with Dick DeVos, a former contender for governor in Michigan, Their marriage is one that many would envy. Considering how active DeVos has consistently been in philanthropy and school reform, it’s hard to believe she’s also managed to raise four kids she’s just as dedicated to.


DeVos has her critics, however. Some link Detroit’s struggling school system with her policies. Still, DeVos has no shortage of allies who defend her by insisting that Detroit is one of the most broken cities in the country and the most challenging landscape to introduce measures that benefit a K to 12 system.


Dissent aside, school choice is an idea that DeVos passionately believes in. A growing number of parents who live in communities with historically low performing schools are using vouchers that empower them to educate their kids elsewhere. Furthermore, subsidizing parents so they have more freedom to select the type of education their children receive may actually benefit some, according to certain research. Those opposed to vouchers believe that families who don’t have access to them are stuck using neighborhood schools with a poor track record that continue to stagnate, however. A study discussed in the Wall Street Journal also shows that when there are too many voucher students admitted into a private school, the benefits of private education are diminished.


The DeVos family is a well-known one across the Grand Rapids area, making Betsy’s surname a positive symbol for those who live in the city. Betsy and her husband are the owners of a wine bar next to the DeVos Performance Hall. Numerous facilities that are part of the city’s core infrastructure speak to her family’s historic involvement in the growth of Michigan, so while Betsy is a complex subject to some, she’s an admirably tenacious advocate for strong communities to others. As for the charter school concept she hopes to spread throughout the United States, it continues to stoke debate despite recent data that suggests that it may actually be a possible solution to fixing a national school system that everyone agrees is failing at offering the same quality of education to kids whose parents can’t afford to enroll them in pricey prep schools.


For updates, follow Betsy DeVos on twitter.

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