If you have school aged children, went to public school, like I did, or are a public school teacher, like many of my friends, you might be aware of how frustrating and disappointing the American public school system can be. In certain areas, public schools have the money and resources to cater to the children they serve. But in many places, they are failing. Schools are falling apart, books are outdated, and teachers don’t have the resources available to reach every student. For many children across our nation, this is the relativity of school life.
For Betsy DeVos, this reality became haunting when her own children reached school age. She says that she was lucky because she could afford to send their children to a good school regardless of the tuition cost, but she quickly realized, looking at the parents around her, that this was not true for many. “Well, that touched home,” DeVos said in an interview in Philanthropy Magazine, “Dick and I became increasingly committed to helping other parents—parents from low-income families in particular.” DeVos felt that all parents should have the ability to send their children to the right school, and she’s worked hard throughout the last three decades to bring that belief to life. Read more about their foundation at dbdvfoundation.org.
DeVos started the highly successful Great Lakes Education Project, which has challenged outdated educational practices by promoting the expansion of charter schools all across Michigan, her home state and my own. She was a key player in forming the American Federation for Children, an organization which has helped 430,000 students across 25 states and the District of Columbia to find their school of choice. She also personally worked for 15 years in Grand Rapids schools helping at-risk students; an experience which she says “changed my life and my perspective about education forever.”
This year Betsy DeVos was confirmed as the 11th U.S. secretary of education. She intends to use her position in government to return the control of education to the local level, so that parents have more power and say over their children’s education. DeVos believes that success, for her, means “[that] all parents, regardless of their zip code, have had the opportunity to choose the best educational setting for their children. And that all students have had the opportunity to fulfill their God-given potential.” She doesn’t intend to stop working until she achieves that goal.
As a Michigan resident, I’ve seen firsthand how DeVos’ efforts have changed the educational landscape for the better. I’ve had friends who have benefited from charter schools that offered the education they needed to achieve their goals. Given her current position, I’m excited to see what new reforms she’ll bring in the coming years. Read her interview with Philanthropy Table.