Betsy DeVos

Elisabeth Dee “Betsy” DeVos

Credentials

  •  Bachelor of Arts degree in the economics group at Calvin College (1979). [1], [2]

Background

Betsy DeVos is the 11th United States Secretary of Education, appointed under President Donald J. Trump. DeVos was nominated for the position on November 23, 2016. [3]

Following strong opposition from Democrats, the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions approved her nomination on January 31, and she was then confirmed by Senate by a 51-50 margin on February 7, 2017. Her confirmation marked the first time in U.S. history that a Cabinet nominee's confirmation was decided on a tie-breaking vote by the vice president. [4], [5], [6]

DeVos is known as a strong proponent for the privatization of public schools and advocates a “school choice” voucher program that would give families taxpayer dollars to pay for private and religious schools. She has called the existing public education system a “government-run monopoly.” [3]

Betsy and her husband Dick DeVos are the billionaire heirs to the “multi-level” marketing company Amway. In 2016, Forbes listed the DeVos family as the 88th richest family in America at a net worth of $5.4 billion.

Before joining the Trump administration, DeVos was chairman of the Windquest Group, an enterprise and investment management firm. [7][1]

Devos Foundations

Together, Betsy and her husband launched the Dick and Betsy Devos Foundation in 1989. Mother Jones reported that from 2000 to 2014, their foundation gave nearly $100 million with an “overwhelming emphasis on funding Christian schools, evangelical missions, and conservative, free-market think tanks like the Acton Institute and the Mackinac Center.” [30], [31]

Betsy DeVos's name also appeared on the 990 forms of the Edgar and Elsa Prince Foundation, which she described as a “clerical error” during her confirmation hearing. The Prince foundation gave $2.7 million to the Family Research Council and over $4.4 million to Focus on the Family between 1999 and 2009, among other organizations on the “religious tight.” [13] [14]

Praise & Criticism

The Washington Post reported that Jim DeMint, president of the conservative Heritage Foundation, praised Trump's choice of DeVos, saying that “the school choice movement will have a champion in the Education Department.” [3]

American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten said Trump’s pick “makes it loud and clear that his education policy will focus on privatizing, defunding and destroying public education in America.” [3]

U.S. Susan Collins, a member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, said she would vote against the confirmation of Betsy DeVos as Secretary of Education. Watch Collins's full statement below: [8]

[…] like all of us, Mrs. DeVos is the product of her experience. She appears to view education through the lens of her experience in promoting alternatives to public education in Detroit and other cities where she has, no doubt, done valuable work. Her concentration on charter schools and vouchers, however, raises the question of whether or not she fully appreciates that the Secretary of Education’s primary focus must be on helping states and communities, parents, teachers, school board members, and administrators strengthen our public schools.

While it is unrealistic and unfair to expect a nominee to know the details of all the programs under the jurisdiction of the Department of Education, I am troubled and surprised by Mrs. DeVos’ apparent lack of familiarity with the landmark 1975 law, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, known as IDEA, that guarantees a free and appropriate education to children with special needs.”

Stance on Climate Change

While DeVos hasn't taken a strong stance on climate change, critics have pointed to her past support of Republicans who have denied that climate change exists. The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) also worries that DeVos's school voucher program could harm climate education by potentially funding “religious schools that promote creationism and deny climate change.” [9], [10], [11]

Philanthropy

Dick and Betsy DeVos Family Foundation

The following is a small sample of the Dick and Betsy Devos Family Foundation's donations, based on information compiled by Conservative Transparency and combined with data from available 990 tax forms up to 2015. For a complete list, view the attached spreadsheet for details on all donations by the Dick and Betsy DeVos Family Foundation by year (.xlsx).

Recipient Total (1999-2015)
Acton Institute for the Study of Religion and Liberty $1,034,750
American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research $759,000
Endeavor Global $512,500
Mackinac Center for Public Policy $400,000
Alliance For School Choice $350,000
Foundation for Excellence in Education $310,000
Focus on the Family $275,000
Institute for Marriage and Public Policy $250,000
Prison Fellowship Ministries $225,425
The Heritage Foundation $120,000
School Choice Wisconsin $110,000
American Justice Partnership $100,000
James Madison Center for Free Speech $95,000
Institute for Justice $90,000
Black Alliance for Educational Options $85,900
Philanthropy Roundtable $83,000
Federalist Society for Law and Public Policy Studies $56,000
Black Alliance for Educational Options - Detroit $50,000
Partners Worldwide $41,000
Center for Individual Rights $35,000
Hispanic Council for Reform and Educational Options $35,000
Texas Justice Foundation $25,000
Foundation for Individual Rights in Education $25,000
Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars $20,000
Best Friends Foundation $16,000
Council for National Policy $14,750
InterVarsity Christian Fellowship $12,500
Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice $12,500
Southeastern Legal Foundation $10,000
Hudson Institute $10,000
Cato Institute $10,000
Campus Crusade for Christ $8,350
Pepperdine University $7,000
Intercollegiate Studies Institute $6,500
Ducks Unlimited Inc. $5,250
Spirit of America Worldwide $5,000
Heritage Foundation $5,000
Urban Land Institute $5,000
National Center for Policy Analysis $4,500
Council of National Policy $2,500
Christian Schools International $1,000
Competitive Enterprise Institute $1,000
World Vision International $1,000
Friends of the Americas $1,000
Hispanic Council for Reform and Educational $1,000
Youth for Christ $500
Wheaton College $500
Grand Total $5,228,425

View available 990 forms below the table.

Individual Donations

OpenSecrets reported that in the 2016 cycle alone, the DeVos family gave at least $10 million to a variety of GOP candidates and committees. (See tabbed spreadsheet here). Top 10 recipients of gifts by the DeVos family included: [12]

  1. Republican National Cmte
  2. Freedom Partners Action Fund
  3. RNC Soft Money
  4. Senate Leadership Fund
  5. American Crossroads
  6. NRSC
  7. Republican Party of Michigan
  8. Conservative Solutions PAC
  9. NRCC
  10. Ending Spending Action Fund

Edgar and Elsa Prince Foundation

Betsy DeVos is daughter of Elsa Prince Broekhuizen and the late Edgar Prince. The Prince foundation gave $2.7 million to the Family Research Council and over $4.4 million to Focus on the Family between 1999 and 2009, as well as significant funding to other “Religious Right” organizations. [13]

In response to questions from Senator Maggie Hassan during a confirmation hearing, Betsy DeVos said she had nothing to do with donations made by her mother's foundation to such conservative advocacy groups. DeVos asserted that the existence of her name on the 990 tax forms of the foundation was a “clerical error.” See the available 990 forms below. [14]

Anti-LGBT Funding

In 1983, DeVos's father, Edgar Prince, contributed to the creation of the Family Research Council, which the Southern Poverty Law Center identifies as extremist because of its anti-L.G.B.T. language. [15], [16]

Politico noted that the Devos family have a history of supporting anti-gay causes. For example, they have donated hundreds of thousands to “Focus on the Family,” an organization devoted to changing a person's sexual orientation. Focus on the Family has described a “second civil war” against LGBT rights, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center. [17]

Civil rights groups have said they are “deeply concerned” that DeVos will dismantle civil rights protections for gay and transgender students in place under Barack Obama's Education Department. The groups noted that the DeVos family's history of supporting anti-gay causes including groups promoting “conversion therapy.” [18]

If Betsy DeVos is to serve as our nation's Secretary of Education, she must clarify whether she shares her family's support for this abusive practice, or if she'll pledge to work to ban it,” said Chad Griffin, president of the Human Rights Campaign. [18]

“The DeVos family has a long, well-documented history of funding organizations dedicated to undermining and restricting the rights of LGBTQ people,” he said.  [18]

Richard and Helen DeVos Foundation

The Richard and Helen DeVos Foundation was founded by Betsy Devos's father-in-law, Richard and his wife Helen. According to data from Conservative Transparency, this foundation has also given millions of dollars to conservative and “religious right” causes, including over $13 million to The Heritage Foundation, $6.5 million to DonorsTrust, and $500,000 to the Mercatus Center, with funding data up to 2013.  See original 990s below. [32]

Key Quotes

2001/2002

Politico reported that, at a 2001 meeting of Christian philanthropists titled “The Gathering,” DeVos described education reform as a way to “advance God's kingdom.” [17]

They said that school choice would lead to “great Kingdom gain” and that public schools have “displaced” the Church as community centers:

The church — which ought to be in our view far more central to the life of the community — has been displaced by the public school as the center for activity, the center for what goes on in the community,” Dick DeVos said. [17]

1997

Writing in Roll Call, a publication covering congress, DeVos said: [19]

My family is the biggest contributor of soft money to the Republican National Committee. I have decided to stop taking offense at the suggestion that we are buying influence. Now I simply concede the point. They are right. We do expect something in return. We expect to foster a conservative governing philosophy consisting of limited government and respect for traditional American virtues. We expect a return on our investment.” [19]

Key Deeds

January 17, 2017

Betsy DeVos attended her confirmation hearing for secretary of education. View the full hearing below.

The Washington Post noted some of Devos's responses “created more questions than they answered.” For example, in response to a question on whether guns should be allowed in schools, DeVos responded by citing that they could help protect children “from potential grizzlies.” [20]

When asked about how much money her family had given to the Republican Party over the years, she acknowledged that they probably gave somewhere in the range of $200 million, but said she was unsure of the exact number. [20]

DeVos was asked whether she was a board member of her mother's foundation, which public 990s had listed her as chairman until 2013. DeVos responded that this was a “clerical error.” [20]

2004

DeVos hired Scott Jensen to work on behalf of her group, American Federation for Children (AFC), the 501(cc)(4) arm of Alliance for School Choice. This hiring was despite Jensen having been charged with three felonies and a misdemeanor for misconduct in office in 2002. [21]

In 2005, Jensen was tried and convicted on all counts. The presiding judge told Jensen “what you did was a great wrong to the citizens of this state” because “You used your power and your influence to run an illegal campaign funding operation.” Jensen was sentenced to five years which included 15 months of confinement along with supervised release. However, despite the conviction and losing his office in the legislature, DeVos retained him during the next five years. In 2010 he won an appeal of his conviction and pleaded misdemeanor crime to settle the case. [21]

Affiliations

Social Media

Publications

DeVos and her husband produced the Broadway stage play titled Scandalous: The Life and Trials of Aimee Semple McPherson. [28], [29]

Resources

  1. Betsy DeVos, Secretary of Education—Biography,” U.S. Department of Education. Archived May 15, 2017. Archive.is URL: https://archive.is/RWIIv

  2. CALVIN GRAD SELECTED AS SECRETARY OF EDUCATION,” Calvin College, November 23, 2016. Archived May 16, 2017. Archive.is URL: https://archive.is/Wol6m

  3. Emma Brown. “Trump picks billionaire Betsy DeVos, school voucher advocate, as education secretary,” The Washington Post, November 23, 2016. Archived May 15, 2017. Archive.is URL: https://archive.is/mEu51

  4. Lisa Hagen. “Senate committee approves DeVos nomination,” The Hill, January 31, 2017. Archived May 15, 2017. Archive.is URL: https://archive.is/x647W

  5. Anya Kamenetz. “Betsy DeVos Confirmed As Education Secretary,” NPR, February 7, 2017. Archived May 15, 2017. Archive.is URL: https://archive.is/IxHeS 

  6. Emmarie Huetteman and Yamiche Alcindor. “Betsy DeVos Confirmed as Education Secretary; Pence Breaks Tie,” The New York Times, February 7, 2017. Archived May 15, 2017. Archive.is URL: https://archive.is/rfEU4

  7. Richard DeVos & family REAL TIME NET WORTH — as of 5/15/17,” Forbes. Archived .pdf on file at DeSmog.

  8. (Press Release). “Senator Collins Announces She Will Vote Against the Confirmation of Betsy DeVos to be Secretary of Education,” Susan Collins United States Senator for Maine, February 1, 2017. Archived May 15, 2017. Archive.is URLhttps://archive.is/MyryM

  9. Anne Reid and Glenn Branch. “Will education secretary pick Betsy DeVos dilute science instruction in schools?,” STAT, January 18, 2017. Archived May 16, 2017. Archive.is URL: https://archive.is/a5S9i 

  10. Erin Einhorn and Sarah Darville. “What We Learned (And Didn’t) About Betsy DeVos At Her Confirmation Hearing,” FiveThirtyEight, January 18, 2017. Archived May 16, 2017. Archive.is URL: https://archive.is/PDcMI

  11. Robynn Boyd. “How Betsy DeVos Could Harm Climate Education,” NRDC, March 17, 2017. Archived May 16, 2017. Archive.is URL: https://archive.is/3bNVJ

  12. Jack Noalnd and Anna Massoglia. “Betsy DeVos and her big-giving relatives: Family qualifies as GOP royalty,OpenSecrets.org, December 1, 2016. Archived May 15, 2017. Archive.is URL: https://archive.is/LwQVt

  13. Rachel Tabachnick. “Prince and DeVos Families at Intersection of Radical Free Market Privatizers and Religious Right,” Talk to Action, January 9, 2017. Archived May 15, 2017. Archive.is URL: https://archive.is/DnzzK

  14. Jeremy Scahill. “TRUMP EDUCATION NOMINEE BETSY DEVOS LIED TO THE SENATE,” The Intercept, January 18, 2017.  Archive.is URL: https://archive.is/uKEw3

  15. Betsy DeVos and God’s Plan for Schools,” The New York Times, December 1, 2016. Archived May 15, 2017. Archive.is URL: https://archive.is/JG4z6

  16. FAMILY RESEARCH COUNCIL,” Southern Poverty Law Centre. Archived May 15, 2017. Archive.is URL: https://archive.is/v8tq5

  17. Benjamin Wermund. “Trump's education pick says reform can 'advance God's Kingdom',” Politico, December 2, 2016. Archived May 15, 2017. Archive.is URLhttps://archive.is/tQ8FS

  18. Benjamin Wermund and Kimberly Hefling. “Trump’s education secretary pick supported anti-gay causes,” Politico, November 25, 2016. Archived May 15, 2017. Archive.is URLhttps://archive.is/oO9gw

  19. Valerie Strauss. “She’s a billionaire who said schools need guns to fight bears. Here’s what you may not know about Betsy DeVos,” The Washington Post, February 7, 2017. Archived May 15, 2017. Archive.is URL: https://archive.is/306qZ

  20. Valerie Strauss. “Six astonishing things Betsy DeVos said — and refused to say — at her confirmation hearing,” The Washington Post, January 18, 2017. Archived May 16, 2017. Archive.is URL: https://archive.is/Osdlu

  21. Lisa Graves. “5 Things to Know About Billionaire Betsy DeVos, Trump Choice for Education,” ExposedByCMD, November 23, 2016. Archived May 15, 2017. Archive.is URL: https://archive.is/fGoir

  22. Current Board & Leadership Positions,” Betsydevos.com. Archived May 16, 2017. Archive.is URL: https://archive.is/7B81C

  23. Interview with Betsy DeVos, the Reformer,” Philanthropy Roundtable, (Spring 2013 issue). Archived May 15, 2017. Archive.is URLhttps://archive.is/rP2Go

  24. Kennedy Center Administration Our People: The Board of Trustees,” The Kennedy Center. Archived May 15, 2017. Archive.is URL: https://archive.is/dwcC5

  25. About the Acton Institute,” Acton Institute for the Study of Religion & Liberty. Archived September 1, 2005. Archive.is URL: https://archive.is/uGLgk

  26. Statement from AEI President Arthur Brooks on announcement of Elisabeth (Betsy) DeVos for secretary of education,” American Enterprise Institute, November 23, 2016.

  27. David Halperin. “DeVos Showdown Looming, Think Tank AEI Offers Misleading Defense of Nominee,” HuffPost, February 6, 2017. Archived May 15, 2017. Archive.is URL: https://archive.is/bxAWe

  28. Scandalous: The Life and Trials of Aimee Semple McPherson,” PlayBill. Archived May 16, 2017. Archive.is URL: https://archive.is/DKDDi

  29. Steve Suskin. “Review: ‘Scandalous’,” Variety, November 15, 2012. Archived May 16, 2017. Archive.is URL: https://archive.is/3PaUD

  30. Following in the footsteps of our parents, we aim to be faithful servants…D&B Foundation. Archived June 30, 2017. Archive.is URL: https://archive.is/HfUCy

  31. Betsy Devos Wants to Use America's Schools to Build 'God's Kingdom',” Mother Jones, March/April 2017 Issue. Archive.is URL: https://archive.is/aIi6X

  32. Richard and Helen DeVos Foundation,” Conservative Transparency. Accessed June 30, 2017.

Other Resources