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Betsy DeVos is one of the nation's primary proponents for the privatization of the public education system advocating for private charter schools, on-line schools and taxpayer funded vouchers for private and religious schools (so-called "school choice"). She was selected to serve as Secretary of Education under President-elect Donald Trump on November 23, 2016. She and her husband Dick DeVos are the billionaire heirs to the Amway line of health and beauty products.
She has advanced this agenda by bankrolling the 501 (c) (4) group the American Federation for Children, the 501 (c) (3) group Alliance for School Choice and by having these groups participate in and fund the American Legislative Exchange Council where AFC has played a leading roll in crafting school privatization bills.
In numerous speeches, DeVos has pushed public support for Christian schools to "advance God's kingdom (see below). Civil rights groups are protesting the selection of DeVos due to her support for anti-gay groups and initiatives. "DeVos and her husband have given hundreds of thousands to Focus on the Family, a conservative Christian group whose founder called the battle against LGBT rights a "second civil war," according to the Southern Poverty Law Center. The group has also pushed so-called “conversion therapy” — discredited practices aimed at changing a person’s sexual orientation — according to the Human Rights Campaign," writes Politico.
See the American Federation for Children SourceWatch page here.
- 1 DeVos Pushed Public Support for Christian Schools to "Advance God's Kingdom"
- 2 Scott Jensen Paid by DeVos to Lobby for School Privatization After Being Convicted of Felony Misconduct Charges
- 3 DeVos-Led Ohio's "All Children Matter" Still Owes Millions in Election Fines
- 4 Betsy DeVos Refused to Send Her Children to Public Schools
- 5 DeVos Bragged that Her Family was Biggest GOP Funder of Soft Money, After Giving $47 million "We Expect a Return on Our Investment"
- 6 Funding a Far-Right Agenda, Including Koch Groups
- 7 Family
- 8 Awards and Commendations
- 9 Positions
- 10 References
- 11 External links
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DeVos Pushed Public Support for Christian Schools to "Advance God's Kingdom"
Betsy DeVos has approached the issue of education as a religious issue for her personally and as an area which she wants to change the law to reflect her personal views. A long-time partisan activist, she got involved in education “reform” in the early 1990s, around the time that her husband Dick DeVos ran for a seat on the Michigan state Board of Education.
After he stepped down from that post, in 1993 she and her husband took on the “Education Freedom Fund,” which, she has said, “I would define as ultimately Christian in its nature because in excess of 90% of the parents who receive these scholarships choose Christian schools to go to.” EFF provides private funding for private school tuition, and is supported with significant donations from the DeVos family.
In a joint interview for “The Gathering,” a group focused on advancing Christian ideology through philanthropy, she and her husband said they decided to focus on reforming public education and funding for private education because the “Lord led us there” and “God led us.”
At that meeting, they were asked if it would not have been simpler to fund Christian schools directly rather than fund political efforts like vouchers to get more tax dollars to fund Christian schools, and she replied: “There are not enough philanthropic dollars in America to fund what is currently the need in education versus what is spent every year on education in this country... So, our desire is to confront the culture in ways that will continue to advance God’s Kingdom,” adding that they want “to impact our culture [in ways] that may have great Kingdom gain in the long-run by changing the way we approach things.” Her husband added: “We are working... to allow for our Christian worldview, which for us comes from a Calvinist tradition, and to provide for a more expanded opportunity someday for all parents to be able to educate their children in a school that reflects their world view and not each day sending their child to a school that may be reflecting a world view that may be quite antithetical to the worldview they hold in their families.”
Dick DeVos later noted that they are for “public education” but that’s not the same as “public schools.” He said public funding for education of all kinds is a “laudable concept” that should not be forced to operate through “government-run schools.” He also stated: “In my opinion, the Church has sadly retrenched from its central role in our community, to where now as we look at many communities in our country the church which ought to be in our view far more central to the life in our community has been displaced by the public school as the center for activity the center for what goes on the community...” He added, “it is certainly our hope that churches would continue no matter what the environment whether there is government funding someday through vouchers or tax credits or some other mechanism... that more and more churches will get more and more active and engaged in education. We just can think of no better way to rebuild our families and our communities than to have that circle of church, school, and family much more tightly focused and being built on a consistent world view.”
Betsy did not disagree with this statement of their shared goals and responded: “If I can just add to that very quickly, I think for many years the church in general has felt that it is important for the children of the congregation to be in the schools to make a difference but in fact I think what has happened in many cases for the last couple of decades is that the schools have impacted the kids more than the kids have impacted the schools. The young children need to have a pretty solid foundation to be able to combat the kind of influences that they are presented with on a daily basis.”
(All quotes above are transcribed from their hour-long interview for “The Gathering,” here).
Scott Jensen Paid by DeVos to Lobby for School Privatization After Being Convicted of Felony Misconduct Charges
In 2004, Betsy DeVos hired Scott Jensen to aid the legislative agenda of her group American Federation for Children (AFC), a 501(c)(4) arm of Alliance for School Choice, her 501(c)3, which push "education reform" measures.
In 2002 Jensen had been charged with three felonies and a misdemeanor for misconduct in office – for illegally using his office as the Republican Assembly Speaker to direct state employees to perform campaign work at public expense. He and the others who were charged challenged the reach of state statutes in court through various appeals from 2002 through 2004, but they lost their efforts to prevent criminal trials. Despite the fact that Jensen was charged with felonies for misusing public tax dollars for partisan political purposes, DeVos hired him in 2004.
In 2005, he was tried in state court and convicted on all counts. The presiding judge told Jensen “what you did was a great wrong to the citizens of this state” because “You used your power and your influence to run an illegal campaign funding operation.” The judge sentenced Jensen to five years, including 15 months of confinement along with supervised release.
That conviction and public condemnation did not end Jensen’s job for Betsy DeVos. Jensen appealed his conviction, and he also lost his office in the legislature, but he had a job with DeVos. For the next five years, Jensen was a convicted felon and DeVos’ point person in pushing her school choice agenda in the states. In 2010, after he succeeded in getting his venue changed to deeply Republican Waukesha County, Jensen won an appeal of his conviction and agreed to plead guilty to a misdemeanor crime to settle the case. His conviction for that crime also had no impact on DeVos’ decision to keep him on to push school choice.
DeVos-Led Ohio's "All Children Matter" Still Owes Millions in Election Fines
All Children Matter, one of a number of pro-voucher issue advocacy groups led by Betsy DeVos owes the state of Ohio more than $5.3 million for election violations according to Politico. "The unpaid fine dates back to 2008, when All Children Matter — a group that lobbied for school-choice legislation and was run by DeVos — broke Ohio election law by funneling $870,000 in contributions through its nationwide PAC to its Ohio affiliate, according to the Ohio Elections Commission." The commission told Politico that the group asked if the spending was permissible, when rejected DeVos's group did it anyway.
"I've been with the commission since 1996 and I've never had anyone else ask for an advisory opinion and then proceed to not do what the opinion said," said Philip Richter, executive director and staff attorney at the Ohio Elections Commission. The election commission issued a $2.6 million fine, the largest it has ever given. It is unclear whether or not the commission will pursue collecting the funds, both groups have wound down their operations.
Betsy DeVos Refused to Send Her Children to Public Schools
Betsy and her husband Dick DeVos, Jr., have four children they raised in the prosperous town of Ada, Michigan, which is the headquarters of AmWay, the multi-level marketing company that made the DeVos family billionaires. The public elementary, middle, and high school in Ada, a suburb of Grand Rapids, Michigan, are highly ranked, but she did not send her children to public schools. She has said that her two daughters were home-schooled for a number of years.
Instead of sending their children to public schools, for nearly three decades, Betsy and Dick have focused on pushing vouchers for private schools and bankrolling politicians to advance their agenda to redirect American tax dollars away from truly public schools.
DeVos Bragged that Her Family was Biggest GOP Funder of Soft Money, After Giving $47 million "We Expect a Return on Our Investment"
The DeVos family is a major funder of the Republican party. In a 1997 op-ed that DeVos wrote for the Capitol Hill newspaper Roll Call, she pointedly admitted, “my family is the largest single contributor of soft money to the national Republican party.” She also said that she decided to stop taking offense at the suggestion that they were buying influence and simply concede the point, admitting “we expect a return on our investment,” to make America reflect their vision for it. DeVos has served as chairwoman of the Michigan Republican Party and was the finance chairwoman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee.
Using FollowtheMoney.org, the American Federation of Teachers calculated in 2017 that Dick and Betsy DeVos gave over $47 million in campaign donations since 2000.
Funding a Far-Right Agenda, Including Koch Groups
In addition to the disclosed and undisclosed political spending for controversial politicians like Tom DeLay – whom Betsy DeVos has called one of the most honest men in politics – the DeVos family through the Richard and Helen DeVos Foundation has been a major funder of many extreme socially conservative organizations such as the Family Research Council, Focus on the Family and Coral Ridge Ministries.
The DeVos family fortune also funds pro-education privatization, anti-union and pro-school voucher groups. In 2011 alone, the DeVos Foundation gave $3 million to David Koch’s Americans for Prosperity, a conservative group created and funded by the Koch brothers. The DeVos Foundation gave another $2.5 million to a Koch Network conduit DonorsTrust from 2009 to 2010. The DeVos foundation has also contributed millions of dollars to other right wing organizations such as the State Policy Network, Heritage Foundation, the American Enterprise Institute, FreedomWorks, Federalist Society, Mackinac Center for Public Policy, and others.
Betsy and Dick DeVos were featured at a meeting of the ALEC sister organization, the State Policy Network, which gave its highest award in 2014 to the Mackinac Center for pushing the misnamed “right to work” bill into law in Michigan, even though that think tank has claimed to the IRS that it engages in no lobbying.
Their fortune has helped to underwrite Mackinac’s operations and agenda, which has included expanding powers for emergency managers to replace elected officials, which helped create the conditions for the Flint, Michigan, tragedy involving children poisoned by lead in their water, as the Center for Media and Democracy, publishers of SourceWatch, has detailed.
In 2015, DeVos money also helped fund the push for adoption of a statewide religious freedom restoration act, or RFRA law, that awards adoption agencies in Michigan the right to claim a religious exemption from having to serve LGBTQ couples. Both the Richard and Helen DeVos Foundation and the Dick and Betsy DeVos Foundation gave money to Bethany Christian Services, which lobbied hard for passage of the controversial RFRA.
Recently, the DeVos family also helped fund two pieces of extreme state legislation in Michigan. The state preemption bill, dubbed the “death star,” HB 4052, passed by the legislature in 2015 bans cities from enacting their own laws governing wages and benefits. In one fell swoop, the law preempted local regulation of nine wage and benefit policies ranging from minimum wage to worker training and organizing.
Awards and Commendations
Richard and Helen DeVos were winners of the William E. Simon Prize for Philanthropic Leadership.
- Advisory Committee, Susan B. Anthony List 
- Acton Institute, Director
- Children First America, CEO
- Choices for Children, Chairman
- Education Freedom Fund, Director
- Great Lakes Education Project (GLEP), Founder and Past Chairman
- James Madison Institute, Director
- Kids Hope USA
- Michigan Repulican Party, Chairman
- National Right to Life Committee, Founder
- Of The People, Co-Chairman
- Windquest Group, Chairman (storage and space utilization multi-company management firm)
- Director, Alliance for School Choice 
- Benjamin Wermund and Kimberly Trump’s education secretary pick supported anti-gay causes, Politico, November 25, 2016.
- Lisa Graves, 5 Things to Know About Billionaire Betsy DeVos, Trump Choice for Education, ExposedByCMD, November 23, 2016.
- Benjamin Wermund and Kimberly Hefling, Trump's education secretary pick led group that owes millions in election fines, Politico, November 29, 2016.
- American Federation of Teachers, Tweet, Twitter, January 9, 2017.
- Arn Pearson, Flint Is a Casualty in the Right Wing's War on Local Democracy, PRWatch, March 31, 2016.
- Media Mouse, Betsy DeVos’ Connection to War Profiteering in Iraq, organizational website, May 19, 2004.
- Michigan Republican Party, Michigan Republican Party Chairman Saulius "Saul" Anuzis, Michigan Republican Party, accessed April 2008.
- Advisory Committee, Susan B. Anthony List, accessed December 19, 2007.
- Directors, Alliance for School Choice, accessed September 19, 2008.
- Betsy DeVos biography, Michigan Republicans website, accessed December, 2003.
- The Far Right in West Michigan: Betsy DeVos
Articles & Commentary
- Lisa Graves, Center for Media and Democracy, "5 Things to Know about Billionaire Betsy DeVos, Trump Education Choice", PRWatch.org, November 23, 2016.
- Curt Guyette, God bless vouchers, Metro Times (Detroit), February 23, 2000.
- Privatization of Public Education: A Joint Venture of Charity and Power, People for the American Way, accessed December 2003.
- Cynthia L. Cooper, Republican Party Donates to Right to Life, Women's eNews, March 18, 2003.
- Media Mouse, Betsy DeVos' Connection to War Profiteering in Iraq, Mediamouse.org, May 19, 2004.
- DeVos on illegal immigrants: Bring 'em in, MLM Liberal Blogspot, March 25, 2006.
- Media Mouse, Dick and Betsy DeVos Supporting the School Vouchers in Michigan and across the United States, Mediamouse.org, September 20, 2006.
- Media Mouse, Dick and Betsy DeVos Funding the Far Right through Foundation Grants, Mediamouse.org, October 5, 2006.