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Trump picks Betsy DeVos for education secretary post

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Trump picks Betsy DeVos for education secretary post
Chad Livengood, Jonathan Oosting and Michael Gerstein, Detroit News

President-elect Donald Trump on Wednesday appointed west Michigan GOP mega donor and philanthropist Betsy DeVos to be his education secretary, putting an ardent supporter of school choice in charge of the nation’s education policy.

Lansing — President-elect Donald Trump on Wednesday said he intends to appoint West Michigan GOP mega donor and philanthropist Betsy DeVos to be his education secretary, putting an ardent supporter of school choice in charge of the nation’s education policy.

DeVos, 58, is seen as a national leader in the school choice movement, which she has called an attempt to “empower” parents to find good schools for their children, whether they be traditional public schools in other neighborhoods, charter schools, virtual schools or private institutions.

“Betsy DeVos is a brilliant and passionate education advocate,” Trump said Wednesday in a statement. “Under her leadership, we will reform the U.S. education system and break the bureaucracy that is holding our children back so that we can deliver world-class education and school choice to all families.”

Trump's appointment of DeVos is subject to confirmation by the Republican-controlled U.S. Senate.

On Tuesday, former Washington, D.C., school chancellor Michelle Rhee took herself out of the running for education secretary, clearing the path for DeVos’ appointment.

In a statement, DeVos said she was honored to help Trump “make American education great again” — a play on Trump’s campaign slogan.

“The status quo in education is not acceptable,” DeVos said. “Together, we can work to make transformational change that ensures every student in America has the opportunity to fulfill his or her highest potential.”

Trump’s decision to have DeVos run the U.S. Department of Education comes four days after she met with the president-elect and Vice President-elect Mike Pence at Trump’s golf club in Bedminister, New Jersey.

At that meeting, Trump, Pence and DeVos discussed Common Core and “setting higher national standards and promoting the growth of school choice across the nation,” according to a statement released Saturday from Trump’s transition team.

DeVos is part of multiple groups that have offered support for the controversial Common Core state curriculum standards. But her views on the subject are less than clear.

Trump has vowed to get rid of the standards, calling them a “disaster” and saying the education curriculum “has to be local.” During the GOP primaries, Trump suggested he might get rid of the Department of Education altogether.

DeVos is chair of the American Federation for Children, a Washington, D.C.-based single-issue organization devoted to expanding school of choice options across the country.

Speaking in July during a school choice forum at the Republican National Convention in Ohio, DeVos accused teachers unions of holding back innovation in education and called them “a formidable foe” at both state and national levels.

In Michigan, DeVos sits on the board of the Great Lakes Education Project, which has operated as her influential family’s school choice advocacy arm in Lansing. For the past 14 years, the group has been actively advocating its education reform agenda in both the Capitol and state House and Senate elections, particularly Republican primaries.

The Great Lakes Education Project, known as GLEP, was instrumental earlier this year in getting the Michigan Legislature to abandon a plan to create a citywide commission in Detroit to regulate the opening and closure of charter schools.

DeVos is a former Michigan Republican Party chairwoman whose husband, Dick, unsuccessfully ran for governor in 2006.

The DeVos family, heirs to the Amway Corp. fortune, are the most prolific donors to the Michigan Republican Party, GOP officeholders and candidates.

During the presidential campaign, Betsy and Dick DeVos never publicly supported Trump, although other members of DeVos clan donated $245,000 to a fund to help elect Trump and other Republican candidates.

In 2000, Betsy and Dick DeVos funded an unsuccessful statewide ballot initiative to amend the state Constitution to allow tax dollars to be used for private school tuition through education vouchers. They have since advocated for school vouchers in other states.

In 2012, Dick DeVos led the charge in getting the Legislature to make Michigan a right-to-work state, eliminating work rules that made financial support of unions a condition of employment for teachers in public schools.

The DeVoses founded their own charter high school, the West Michigan Aviation Academy, located on the grounds of the Gerald R. Ford International Airport in Grand Rapids.

The Dick and Betsy DeVos Family Foundation, a nonprofit 501c3 organization, gave a $3 million no-interest loan to the school in tax year 2014, according to IRS records. Their Grand Rapids-based Windquest Group private investment firm also lists the school in its portfolio.

The family foundation reported a $55.7 million balance in 2014, the most recent filing available, including various investments with a fair-market value of $51.7 million.