When Besty DeVos took the helm of the Department of Education she had no prior experience as a government official. Although she had never worked in government or been voted into an elected position, she was well known in Republican political circles in her home state of Michigan. Her reputation as an advocate for the expansion of all models of school choice had been well established by the time Vice President Mike Pence cast the deciding vote in favor of her confirmation.
DeVos spent her youth as a member of a privileged family in Holland, Michigan. She’s the child of Edgar Prince, an auto parts manufacturer known for his support of conservative causes. Her brother, Eric D. Prince is the founder and chief executive of Blackwater, the private security firm responsible for the deaths of 17 Iraqis during the Nisour Square massacre in 2007. DeVos attended and graduated from Calvin College. Calvin College is affiliated with the Christian Reformed Church. DeVos has spent her entire life with strong ties to the Christian Reformed Church. She married Dick DeVos, heir to the Amway fortune. Neither DeVos nor any of her children have attended public schools.
Those who have dealt with DeVos describe her as a personable woman who knows how to get what she wants. In Michigan, she donated money to candidates and openly expressed her desire to see results when it came to the issues most important to her.
People who know DeVos argue her approach to school choice comes from a sincere belief in the benefits of Christian education and a deep conviction that the current system of public education in the United States is failing students socially and educationally. Her point of departure, they claim, is to create a system where parents are empowered to choose what’s best for their child.
Others who have worked with DeVos over the years don’t deny her interest in creating strong communities or the fact that she’s invested millions of dollars into reinvigorating places like Western Michigan. But they do worry DeVos does not understand the solutions she supports might not work in places where parents are facing different challenges than those with which she is familiar.
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