President-elect Donald Trump today tapped billionaire GOP donor Betsy DeVos to be his pick for secretary of education, placing the Michigan native and education activist in a position to lead the agency at the helm of academic achievement in schools across the country.
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DeVos, a former Michigan Republican Party chairwoman, is known as a charter school advocate and philanthropist and she is chairwoman of the American Federation for Children, a group that pushes for the use of school vouchers and tax programs.
DeVos is the second woman Trump has selected for top posts in his administration after earlier in the day announcing South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley as his choice for U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. Both posts are subject to a Senate confirmation.
Trump described DeVos, who supported other candidates in the primaries, as a “brilliant and passionate education advocate” in a statement.
In the past, DeVos has been linked to Common Core learning standards that are derided by many conservatives and Trump supporters. However, she denied being a supporter in a statement on her website, referring to the math and reading guidelines used in many states as a “federalized boondoggle.”
“I do support high standards, strong accountability, and local control,” her website reads. “When Governors such as John Engler, Mike Huckabee, and Mike Pence were driving the conversation on voluntary high standards driven by local voices, it all made sense. However, along the way, it got turned into a federalized boondoggle.”
Instead she said she has been a part of groups that supported Common Core, such as the Foundation for Excellence in Education, founded by former Florida governor Jeb Bush. The former GOP presidential candidate posted on Facebook, “I cannot think of a more effective and passionate change agent to press for a new education vision, one in which students, rather than adults and bureaucracies, become the priority in our nation’s classrooms.”
Trump has criticized Common Core and pledged he would repeal the standards if elected, although state initiatives would not be under his purview.
In terms of charter schools, DeVos has pushed for fewer regulations in her home state of Michigan. She and her husband have also lead the Dick and Betsy DeVos Family Foundation, a non-profit school choice advocacy group. They also have a private investment firm, the Windquest Group, which invests in technology.
Those advocating for charter schools, which are not unionized, are at odds with teachers unions.
As chairman of the American Federation for Children, she has supported candidates who endorse using vouchers or other programs, including tax-credit scholarships, to help send children to private schools.
"Above all, I believe every child, no matter their zip code or their parents’ jobs, deserves access to a quality education," her website reads.
TEACHERS UNIONS FIRED UP
In choosing DeVos to be his education secretary pick, Trump appears to be honoring a campaign pledge to make changes to school choice, although previous efforts to invest in charter schools have failed to make progress in Congress.
“The president-elect, in his selection of Betsy DeVos, has chosen the most ideological, anti-public education nominee put forward since President Carter created a Cabinet-level Department of Education,” said Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, which has 1.6 million members. “Trump makes it loud and clear that his education policy will focus on privatizing, defunding and destroying public education in America.”
The group says with DeVos as the pick, it means the country is “far from ensuring that every child has the option of a great public education” and warned some that “have it now will lose it.”