Republican reformer Betsy DeVos, previously known as Elizabeth Prince, along with her husband Dick DeVos, has spearheaded political campaigns, committees and organizations in addition to business and educational foundations to support various causes. Her philanthropy ranges from founding a group that supports manufacturing, technology and clean energy to educational organizations that seek complete educational choice.
Aside from her most popular advocacy seen in the American Federation for Children and the Alliance for School Choice, DeVos has been chair of the Michigan Republican Party, Windquest Group and the Dick and Betsy DeVos Family Foundation. Additionally, she is a member of the Foundation for Excellence in Education, Mars Hill Bible Church, DeVos Institute for Arts at the Kennedy Center and Kids Hope USA.
DeVos’s most extensive philanthropy is in educational reform, a zeal which seems to have begun in childhood. She attended the Christian Reformed Church of Holland, Michigan’s Dutch community. Reformed groups are known for their opposition to the Netherlands’ public schools.
In the spring of 2013, Philanthropy Roundtable sat down with DeVos for an interview about her role in educational choice, which to her includes charters,private entities, homeschooling and even educational technology.
Philanthropy first asked DeVos’s opinion of school choice progress since Milton Friedman’s “The Role of Government in Education” was written. DeVos voiced that private school entities are on the rise,especially as citizens witness public schools failing. They are becoming more open to what used to be radical reforms that provide financial assistance for families, allowing them to choose and afford alternatives to public schools.
Her advocacy for reform was greatly inspired by a desire to assist low-income families with paying for private schools as she and Dick were raising school-aged children at the time. The sympathy spurred them to visit Potter’s House Christian School, to which the Devos’s provide significant support.
Soon she was able to pass a charter school bill in 1993, although her 2000 attempt to create vouchers and tax credits was to no avail. Even so, the Great Lakes Educational Project that resulted fostered the creation of more charter schools throughout Michigan.
The DeVoses’ work turned into the American Federation for Children and the Alliance for School Choice. They saw most success in Florida, Indiana and Louisiana.
Philanthropy did comment that the three aforementioned states were run by “reform-minded Republican governors,” which doesn’t represent DeVos’s bipartisan interest.
To address the bipartisan issue, DeVos stated that what began as a Republican backed cause has gained momentum in the Democratic arena.
She provides the example of Louisiana, where reform is sponsored by democrats. She went on to use the state as an example when asked about grassroots success. In Louisia, she worked with radio stations, called citizens and worked alongside community and church groups to inform everyone about Gov. Jendal’s voucher pilot program.
In response to Philanthropy’s question, DeVos asserts that, yes, technology is one aspect of educational choice because of its ability to make learning fun and considering how quickly children learn technology.
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