Betsy DeVos: Reforming Educational Choice

For years, Betsy DeVos has been leading the charge of education reform. When DeVos and her husband had school-age children, they made a visit to the Potter’s House Christian School in Grand Rapids. The school serves many low-income families. At the school, DeVos met the parents of the students. These parents were working to ensure their children were safe, could learn and be curious, and be treated with love.

 

After these conversations, DeVos continued to go back to the school for visits. DeVos had the financial means to pay her children’s tuition to a better school. However, for these parents at the Potter’s House Christian School, financial resources weren’t as abundant so tuition costs were an obstacle to education. DeVos decided to begin financially assisting some of the school’s children. Today, DeVos supports the Potter’s House financially at a significant level.

 

Supporting that one school led DeVos to think about education on a larger scale. DeVos’s husband, Dick, expressed his commitment to education and ran for a spot on the State Board of Education in Michigan. After winning the election in 1990, Dick focused his efforts there while DeVos started a foundation that distributed scholarships to low-income households, in hopes that families had more of a choice regarding where they could afford to attend school. However, rather quickly, DeVos recognized that scholarships were not reaching the root issue with the education system in the United States.

 

DeVos also joined the boards of Children First America and the American Education Reform Council, both charities of which were working to provide educational choice for parents through credits on their taxes and vouchers. DeVos was politically involved in helping the first bill for Michigan regarding charter schools to pass in 1993. Because Michigan’s families were in need of improvements to their choices for education, and because the state constitution had been written in a way that limited choice for schooling (in comparison to other states), in 2000 DeVos tried to change the state constitution. The amendment proposed would permit the state to grant tax-credit vouchers or scholarships. Despite her efforts, the amendment did not pass.

 

Reacting to the loss of the amendment she proposed, DeVos began a Michigan committee for political action. Known as the Great Lakes Education Project, the committee was devoted to reform of education by increasing the number of charter schools throughout Michigan. From 2001 through 2002, the committee’s efforts were successful and DeVos began thinking of how the nation could benefit from similar change.

 

Together with John Walton, Dick created All Children Matter. DeVos chaired the political organization, and eventually the group decided more cohesion was needed for efforts to be successful. The key players reorganized and formed the American Federation for Children. It serves as the as an umbrella organization affiliated with the Alliance for School Choice.

 

Since her time with the American Federation for Children, DeVos has seen major advances in other states besides Michigan. Florida, Louisiana, and Indiana are three examples of states that have passed programs that will better serve their students and provide them with the opportunity for educational choice.

 

Besides increasing educational choice for students, DeVos sees choice of school location as an especially promising education-reform strategy. She advocates for freedom from families being assigned a school based on the location of their home. DeVos believes technology will help this movement and that, with the right legislation to serve as the framework, educational choice will create a better educations for the country’s children.

 

To learn more, visit www.betsydevos.com.

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