Betsy DeVos has dedicated nearly her entire life to public service. Most people know her as the current Secretary of Education under the Trump Administration. But DeVos has been active in Republican politics and public service since her college days. She served as the chairperson of the Michigan Republican Party for more than 20 years. And she has spent a great deal of her career working to better the broken public education system in the United States.
It has been these latter efforts for which DeVos is least known and for which she has received the smallest amount of credit. For someone who led a relatively privileged life, it is, perhaps, surprising that DeVos would become such a staunch advocate for reform of the country’s inner-city schools. She attended an upper-middle-class high school and then went on to study at Calvin College, a fairly exclusive Christian university in Grand Rapids, Michigan, that is often placed among the top Christian colleges in the country.
It was there that DeVos met her future husband, Dick DeVos. As the latter’s career took off and the couple became wealthy, Betsy DeVos started spending more time volunteering and engaging in philanthropy. It was during this period that she first realized just how broken many of the country’s urban schools are. DeVos remembers touring an inner-city school in her hometown of Grand Rapids and being shocked at the conditions that she witnessed. She saw classrooms where the heat didn’t work in winter. And she heard stories of serious felonies being committed on school grounds, causing many students to constantly fear for their safety.
As she looked into the root causes of these problems, DeVos realized that the public-school system, for various reasons, had completely failed America’s inner-city youth. She started reading Milton Friedman and other free-market theoreticians, eventually concluding that free-market solutions would provide the best bet to counter the pernicious tendency of urban public schools to decay into a farm system for the country’s prisons.
DeVos and her husband put their money where their mouth was. They started a number of public charter schools with the goal of transforming how urban kids were taught, bringing their scholastic environments up to the standards that were seen in the wealthiest school districts. Some of these schools, like the New Urban Learning school in Detroit, have proven DeVos’ vision, taking kids from the most neglected neighborhoods in the country and shaping them into top scholars.
To learn more, visit www.betsydevos.com.