When I think of the DeVos family name I am usually struck by the billions of dollars the family has made as the leaders of the AmWay Group, but in recent years the impressive nature of the education reform work completed by Betsy DeVos has taken center stage in my understanding of the family. In February 2017, I was pleased to see the years of commitment and hard work Mrs. DeVos has put into the education reform movement had finally come to fruition with her appointment to the position of Secretary of Education by President Donald Trump; the appointment of Betsy DeVos was seen by myself as a positive move for those of us who feel the U.S. public school system has been failing our children at an alarming rate for decades.
I have usually viewed the work of Betsy DeVos solely in terms of the education reform activist movement which has been making sweeping changes to the U.S. public school system across more than 15 states. What has always impressed me is the willingness of Secretary DeVos to provide as much support for the different areas of the country where charter schools and school choice programs have been instigated at the behest of the Michigan native and her fellow reformers. A good example of the philanthropic work completed by Betsy DeVos was seen in Louisiana, a state adopting school vouchers and school choice programs where parents and guardians faced the issue of a public school department unwilling to publicize the programs. I was pleased to see Betsy DeVos and her supporters step into the fray when school administrators remained tight-lipped about the latest programs; alongside her fellow reformers, Betsy DeVos organised meetings and radio ads to provide information about the introduction of the school choice and voucher programs and assist parents in making an educated and informed decision about the education of their children.
The philanthropic work of Betsy DeVos has always impressed me, particularly the work completed by the Dick and Betsy DeVos Family Foundation which now includes charitable programs chosen by the children of the couple. Over the course of her life, Betsy DeVos has worked in many different positions from her role as an in-school advocate for at-risk children in Michigan public schools to take a seat on the board of the Kennedy Center for the Arts at the request of President George W. Bush. Among the philanthropic endeavors undertaken by Betsy DeVos has been Project Clarity, a program to clean up the water at Lake Macatawa and the establishment of the West Michigan Aviation Academy. Despite the good causes backed by Betsy DeVos, I always think of her work as an education reformer first and foremost where she has made her biggest impact as a philanthropist and activist.
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Born to a public school teacher in 1958, Betsy DeVos was inspired at an early age to devote her life to advancing educational opportunities for children. While earning her Bachelor of Arts degree at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan, Mrs. DeVos became active in campus politics. I believe she merged these two strengths quite successfully to become the leader and philanthropist she is today.
One of Betsy DeVos’s earliest endeavors proved to be one of her most important. In 1994, she and her husband began to visit the Potter’s House Christian School and were impressed to see the families and staff striving to ensure the children had a safe, stimulating and loving environment in which to learn. The DeVoses began to offer significant financial and interactive support, which they continue currently. Mrs. DeVos mentors individual students attending Potter’s House and has served on the Advisory Board since 1994. According to her biography on the U. S. Department of Education’s website, Betsy DeVos was compelled to expand her reach and for 15 years served as an in-school mentor for at-risk students in the Michigan public school system. She states that working with those teachers, students and parents, “changed my life and my perspective about education forever.” I trust she is sincere in her efforts to bring reform to the way school systems allocate education opportunities to children, especially the low-income and residents of poor neighborhoods. Her quest to advocate for the educational-choice movement began in the 1990s when she served on the boards of two national non-profits, the Children First America and the American Education Reform Council. Both agencies worked to expand educational choice through vouchers and tax credits, making private and charter schools more financially accessible to deserving children’s families.
Additionally, Betsy DeVos is encouraging the education system to end the policy of forcing students to attend a school based on geographic guidelines, a practice that removes the families’ rights to choose what is best for their children. In the years 2001 and 2002, Mrs. DeVos made such tremendous strides in opening opportunities for Michigan families to choose high-quality options for their children’s education that proponents of the movement took notice. These people began to encourage Betsy DeVos to broaden her influence nationally and she agreed, according to her 2013 interview with the Philanthropy Roundtable organization. She currently serves as chairwoman of the American Federation for Children and the Alliance for School Choice, both of which are agencies leading the national educational-choice movement. I am confident Betsy DeVos will continue to use her time and money to build on her successful efforts in educational-choice reform already improving the learning atmosphere in Florida, Michigan, Louisiana and Indiana. Read her interview with Philanthropy Table