Betsy DeVos

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Betsy DeVos

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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. See the American Federation for Children SourceWatch page here.

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.[1]

About ALEC
ALEC is a corporate bill mill. It is not just a lobby or a front group; it is much more powerful than that. Through ALEC, corporations hand state legislators their wishlists to benefit their bottom line. Corporations fund almost all of ALEC's operations. They pay for a seat on ALEC task forces where corporate lobbyists and special interest reps vote with elected officials to approve “model” bills. Learn more at the Center for Media and Democracy's ALECexposed.org, and check out breaking news on our PRWatch.org site.

DeVos To Headline 2017 Alec Meeting In Denver, Promoting State Vouchers

Betsy DeVos will be headlining the July 19, 2017 American Legislative Exchange Council meeting in Denver. The DeVos group, Alliance for School Choice, has long funded ALEC's Education Task Force and has been a driving force in the ALEC school privatization agenda, sponsoring bills, conducting workshops and pushing bills in the states.

Among the model policies on the agenda [2], ALEC will be revisiting the Great Schools Tax Credit Program Act [3] which has similarities to the Trump campaign proposal for a $20 billion federal tax credit scholarship program for private schools.

While DeVos says that, “The president is proposing the most ambitious expansion of education choice in our nation’s history” [4] as of July 2017 few details have emerged about the administration’s plans to create and implement a federal private school voucher programs.

See DeVos' remarks at the ALEC meeting here.

DeVos and U.S. Education Department Sued By 18 States

Attorneys general from 18 states and Washington, D.C. filed a complaint in U.S. District Court on July 6, 2017 against DeVos and the Education Department for halting the Borrower Defense Rule, which erases federal student loan debt for students cheated by for-profit colleges. According to Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey, "Since Day 1, Secretary DeVos has sided with for-profit school executives against students and families drowning in unaffordable student loans," [5] Changes to the rule simplifying the claims process for defrauded borrowers were set to take effect on July, 1, however, DeVos unilaterally suspended the changes by “citing a federal lawsuit filed in May by an association of for-profit colleges in California that is seeking to block the rules.” [6] Seen as a move favoring for-profit colleges, Sen. Warren criticized DeVos for “bending over backwards to make it easier for fly-by-night schools to cheat students and bury them in mountains of debt.” [7]

DeVos Appoints Student Loan Company CEO To Head Student Loan Program

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos announced her plans on June 20, 2017 to appoint Arthur Wayne Johnson as the Chief Operating Office of Federal Student Aid (FSA).[8] Johnson is currently the chief executive officer and director of Reunion Student Loan Finance Corporation, a private student loan company, which raises possible conflict of interest and ethical concerns. His association with the company was not included in the press release issued by the Department of Education. U.S. Senator Patty Murray told the Washington Post that she had “major concerns about a private student loan CEO in such a critical position and will be examining his background closely and following up with questions about potential conflicts of interest and ethical issues.” [9] Johnson has been a beneficiary of corporate profits stemming from collecting student loan debts, and it remains unclear whether or not he will advocate for college students’ rights as the head of the FSA.[10]

Johnson’s potential appointment highlights this administration general mistrust of public education, and the Koch-ALEC agenda of promoting a privatized education system that seeks “the complete separation of education and state.”[11]

DeVos Watch Launched By U.S. Senator Warren

In an effort to oversee DeVos’ management of the Federal Student Aid Program, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) has launched DeVos Watch.[12] [13]

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.”[14]

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.”[14]

(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.[14]

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.[14]

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.[15]

"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.[15]

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.[14]

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.[16]

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.[17]

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.

Family

Her younger brother, Erik D. Prince, is "the founder of Blackwater USA, a private security firm."[18][19]

Awards and Commendations

Richard and Helen DeVos were winners of the William E. Simon Prize for Philanthropic Leadership.

Positions

References

  1. Benjamin Wermund and Kimberly Trump’s education secretary pick supported anti-gay causes, Politico, November 25, 2016.
  2. "TAG: AM 2017," ALEC, 2017.
  3. "The Great Schools Tax Credit Program Act (Scholarship Tax Credits)," ALEC, 2016.
  4. "DeVos: Trump's School Choice Program Will Be Most Ambitious in History," U.S. News, May 22, 2017.
  5. "18 States Sue Betsy DeVos And Education Dept. Over Delay Of Borrower Defense Rule," NPR, July 6, 2017.
  6. "18 States Sue Betsy DeVos Over Student Loan Protections," New York Times, July 6, 2017.
  7. "Attorneys general sue DeVos over delay of rule to protect students from predatory colleges," The Washington Post, July 6, 2017.
  8. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos Announces Intent to Appoint Dr. A. Wayne Johnson as Chief Operating Officer of Federal Student Aid,” U.S. Department of Education, June 20, 2017.
  9. " DeVos picks private student loan chief to head government loan program," The Washington Post, June 21, 2017.
  10. "DeVos Appoints CEO Of A Student Loan Company To Head Federal Aid Agency," NPR, June 24, 2017.
  11. "Koch High: How The Koch Brothers Are Buying Their Way Into The Minds Of Public School Students," The Huffington Post", July 21, 2014.
  12. "DeVos Watch," Elizabeth Warren, U.S. Senator for Massachusetts, May 31, 2017.
  13. "Senator Warren Launches "DeVos Watch" Oversight Effort to Strengthen Accountability of Federal Student Aid Program," Elizabeth Warren, U.S. Senator for Massachusetts, May 31, 2017.
  14. 14.0 14.1 14.2 14.3 14.4 Lisa Graves, 5 Things to Know About Billionaire Betsy DeVos, Trump Choice for Education, ExposedByCMD, November 23, 2016.
  15. 15.0 15.1 Benjamin Wermund and Kimberly Hefling, Trump's education secretary pick led group that owes millions in election fines, Politico, November 29, 2016.
  16. American Federation of Teachers, Tweet, Twitter, January 9, 2017.
  17. Arn Pearson, Flint Is a Casualty in the Right Wing's War on Local Democracy, PRWatch, March 31, 2016.
  18. Media Mouse, Betsy DeVos’ Connection to War Profiteering in Iraq, organizational website, May 19, 2004.
  19. Michigan Republican Party, Michigan Republican Party Chairman Saulius "Saul" Anuzis, Michigan Republican Party, accessed April 2008.
  20. Advisory Committee, Susan B. Anthony List, accessed December 19, 2007.
  21. Directors, Alliance for School Choice, accessed September 19, 2008.

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