President-elect Donald Trump will nominate billionaire philanthropist and school-choice advocate Betsy DeVos as Education secretary, according to an announcement from his transition team Wednesday.
DeVos, 58, is regarded as a staunch supporter of giving parents and students greater freedom to choose the schools they wish to attend.
DeVos and her husband played an active role in promoting passage of Michigan’s charter-school law in 1993, and more recently, contributed $1.45 million this year to derail legislative efforts that would have imposed added oversight for charter schools in Detroit.
“Betsy DeVos is a brilliant and passionate education advocate,” Trump said in a statement Wednesday. “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.”
On the campaign trail, Trump vowed to invest $20 billion in federal funds to encourage states to make school choice available to all poor students, including through vouchers that allow families to take public funding to private schools. He also pledged to establish a national goal of providing school choice to every one of the 11 million school-aged children living in poverty.
Efforts to ease restrictions on charter schools have come under criticism, especially in Michigan where about 80 percent of charter schools are run by private companies, and are considered among the least regulated in the country, according to a report in Chalkbeat. Among the critics is current U.S. Secretary of Education John King, who contends lax oversight has led to concerns over whether the charter schools are meeting students’ needs.
While DeVos hasn’t been come out strongly against Common Core learning standards the way Trump has during his campaign, she has been a proponent of raising the standards of what students should learn in each grade.
Known as a longtime contributor to the Republican Party, DeVos had not been a vocal supporter of Trump during his presidential campaign, according to a Detroit News report.
While DeVos has been vocal about school choice issues, she has never worked in public education and her own children attended private schools.
She currently chairs the American Federation for Children, a national group advocating for school choice policies, and serves on the board of the Great Lakes Education Project, a pro-charter lobby group in Michigan.
DeVos and her husband, Dick DeVos, owe their fame and fortune to his father, Amway founder Rich DeVos, and are well known within philanthropic circles for their decades-long contributions to Christian nonprofits and support for underprivileged children.
“She’s smart and she does what she says she is going to do,” said Michael Kaiser, former president of the Kennedy Center, where DeVos served on the board for a six-year term until 2010. “Betsy was the best board member I ever had,” he said in a story in MLive. “She is a team player but also has ideas and she’s generous and she’s hardworking.”
In acknowledging the news of her nomination, DeVos said via Twitter: “The status quo in education is not acceptable.”
Former Washington, D.C., school chancellor Michelle Rhee and New York charter-school leader Eva Moskowitz had also been considered for the top education post, but both removed themselves from consideration in the past few days.