Betsy DeVos: Controversial Education Advocate and Megadonor

Betsy DeVos, Secretary of Education in the Trump administration, was a powerful political force in Michigan for years, along with her husband, his family and her own. She was known to heavily support candidates she favored and would work to defeat those she disagreed with. And she had the money to do it.


Mike Cox, a former state  attorney, general, said, “…she instilled fear in a lot of people, and it’s not just because she’s a billionaire. I found Betsy to be very determined, steely, when she sets her mind on a goal.”


An advocate of charter schools, which are publicly funded but privately run, she has fought for tax dollars to be taken from the public schools for their benefit. She also believes that religious and private schools should be able to receive vouchers to help lower income families pay tuition.


Her views have been met with much criticism. She has been accused of trying to undermine the public schools and setting up an education-for-profit system. She is in favor of letting the free market decide whether parents should or should not send their children to a charter school. She claims that it creates competition, and therefore improves public schools.


She supports schools run for profit without performance standards.


Charter schools have been in Detroit for several decades. Some have performed very well, but others are performing poorly. According to the New York Times, there are more seats than students, there is “little oversight,” and the system is “chaotic.” The public school system has continued to deteriorate.


DeVos indeed has challenges before her. She was named to her cabinet post by President Donald Trump, with whom she had little contact previously. She survived a grueling Senate hearing on her candidacy and was confirmed by a 51 to 50 vote, with Vice President Mike Pence casting the deciding vote. She was given few staff members in her department. But with her “steely” determination, she will forge ahead.


Betsy and Dick DeVos and their families have been magnanimous donors to conservative Republican candidates, but charitable contributions have far exceeded the political. The couple both come from wealthy families who were generous donors to political causes and charities. According to Forbes, the family has donated $1.33 billion dollars over the years out of an estimated $5.2 billion fortune.


They have donated to charities including those which are artistic, religious, civic, public policy, health and human services, and more. They established the DeVos Institute of Arts Management at the University of Maryland with a $22 million donation. In 2015, they donated $3 million for education reform.


Their donations are given without strings attached. Learn more: