Betsy DeVos Effective in Political Battles

U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos doesn’t look for the limelight, but those who know her say she is effective in winning political battles.


DeVos, an heiress to the Prince family fortune and native of Holland, Mich., used her wealth and influence in her home state of Michigan for decades to foster programs, support legislation and get those she supported elected. Publicly gracious, DeVos is known to be a pitbull when it comes to issues striking her passion.


I found Betsy to be very determined, steely, when she sets her mind on a goal,” said Republican and former Michigan State Attorney General Mike Cox.


A key issue DeVos fervently fights for is education. She is a leading charter school advocate and has always supported school vouchers. Charter schools are run by private groups, but still rely on public money to function. School vouchers would allow public money to follow the child, whether the child attends a public school, a charter school or a private school. That includes private religious schools.


DeVos said in a recent Philanthropy Roundtable interview things like charter schools and school vouchers are ideas whose time has come.


“This confluence of events is forcing people to take note, particularly because of the public’s awareness that traditional public schools are not succeeding,” she said. “In fact, let’s be clear, in many cases, they are failing.


DeVos believes competition for money would force all schools to improve standards. That produced hostility in Washington, D.C. DeVos was appointed to her cabinet position only after Vice President Mike Pence cast a tie-breaking vote.


The Secretary states those who mock her don’t know her.


“I’ve been in politics for some time,” DeVos said, referring about her involvement in starting the Great Lakes Education Project, a political action committee in Michigan. The PAC’s mission was to expand charter schools in Michigan.


Michigan Republican political operative Greg McNeilly said DeVos knows more about politics than most realize. She is a former Michigan Republican party chairwoman, as well as a major GOP donor. She and husband Dick DeVos, heir to his own fortune as the son of Amway co-founder Rich DeVos, also were instrumental in the 1993 passage of the first charter-school bill in Michigan.


“People in Washington will find out, opposition only emboldens her,” he said. “She knows how to play power politics.”


She has already made connections with those some would not expect. DeVos and rapper Pitbull, with the real name of Armando Christian Perez, were together earlier this year in Miami to support a charter school the rapper started. Learn more:


The DeVoses also started a charter school in Michigan named West Michigan Aviation Academy.


The couple contributes millions to a variety of educational and cultural causes, donating approximately $139 million over their lifetimes. That includes more than $3 million to educational causes in 2015. The DeVos’ also gave $357,000 that year to other groups engaged in education reform.