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Supporters and Skeptics of Betsy DeVos, Trump’s Nominee for Education Secretary

By Andrew Ujifusa — January 09, 2017 8 min read
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Since President-elect Donald Trump nominated her to be his education secretary, Betsy DeVos has attracted a host of support and criticism, which could make her confirmation process quite different from past confirmation hearings for that position. But who’s in her corner, and who’s been throwing punches?

The public-relations squabbling about DeVos has various facets. At least two groups, America Rising and Friends of Betsy DeVos, have been defending her nomination from critics and sharing supportive statements since Trump announced his pick. By contrast, End Citizens United and Every Voice have been attacking DeVos by arguing that senators who have received campaign contributions from DeVos and her family should recuse themselves from considering her nomination. (The situation of senators having received contributions from a nominee is not unique to this nominee and the incoming Trump administration, however.)

And over the weekend, Democrats sought to delay the confirmation hearing for DeVos, on the grounds that the the Office of Government Ethics had yet to finish its review of DeVos’ financial and other disclosures.

It’s also worth noting that many of the alphabet-soup professional education associations in Washington tend not to take official positions on cabinet nominees like DeVos.

Below are examples of both supporters and those who have criticized DeVos, in no particular order.


  • Mitt Romney, 2012 former Republican presidential nominee

In an op-ed for the Washington Post, Romney said the U.S. education system has stalled despite spending a good deal of money on it. As someone who doesn’t need an education job down the road and is financially well-off, according to Romney, DeVos is set up perfectly to challenge the “education establishment.” He also wrote, “She founded two of the nation’s leading education reform organizations and helped open the door to charter schools in her home state of Michigan. I have known her for many years; she is smart, dynamic, no nonsense and committed.” (DeVos contributed to Romney’s 2012 presidential campaign.)

  • Jeb Bush, former Florida governor

DeVos served on the board of directors for the Foundation for Excellence in Education, the research and advocacy group founded by Bush that supports school choice,

digital education, test-based accountability, and other policies at the state level.

In a Politico story from earlier this month, Bush said of DeVos’ nomination, “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.” (DeVos contributed to Bush’s 2016 presidential campaign.)

  • Twenty Republican governors

Twenty GOP governors, including some big names such as Wisconsin’s Scott Walker and Tennessee’s Bill Haslam, say they expect DeVos will right-size the federal role on K-12 education. “Betsy DeVos will fight to streamline the federal education bureaucracy, return authority back to states and local school boards, and ensure that more dollars are reaching the classroom,” they write in a letter sent Monday to the Senate education committee.

  • John Bailey, education consultant

Bailey, who formerly worked for Bush’s foundation as well as the U.S. Department of Education under President George W. Bush and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, said in an email that DeVos “was a great board member at [the foundation]. She is passionate about kids and will always put kids’ needs first. She expressed deep interest in digital learning and how it could expand opportunities for kids.”

  • Home School Legal Defense Association

In a letter supporting her nomination, the HSLDA wrote that, “Among the many new and innovative ideas she brings to the Department of Education is a positive view of alternative forms of education, especially homeschooling. She acknowledges the constitutional right of parents to direct the education and upbringing of their children.”

  • New Mexico Gov. Susanna Martinez

The Republican governor now in her second term wrote in an Investor’s Business Daily op-ed that DeVos “has extensive experience and an unquestionable commitment to our children. For nearly three decades, she has been on the front lines in dozens of state capitals, working with parents to promote school choice and accountability in the classroom. As our secretary of education, she’s going to continue that fight.”

  • Amanda Price, ex-leader of the Education Committee, Michigan House of Representatives

In an op-ed for the Detroit News, Price said she agreed with DeVos about the importance of parental choice in education. Price also said, “With DeVos as education secretary, we can rest assured that she’ll not pursue the kind of federal overreaches we’ve seen in the recent past.” You might remember Price as an early member of Conservative Leaders for Education, a group designed to push conservative priorities for the Every Student Succeeds Act.

  • Jim Barrett, Great Lakes Education Project chairman and former Michigan Chamber of Commerce CEO

“On accountability, Betsy DeVos and [the Great Lakes Education Project] have been pushing for a simple A-F letter grading system to use for school accountability, so that parents receive meaningful information about school performance in order to make informed school choice decisions,” Barrett wrote in a Lansing State Journal op-ed, referring to the DeVos-founded GLEP organization and DeVos’ work in Michigan. (DeVos founded GLEP to push her education priorities in Michigan)


  • Randi Weingarten, American Federation of Teachers President

In a statement posted the same day Trump announced DeVos as his pick, Weingarten blasted her for her lack of experience in classrooms or schools and her opposition to public education in general. “Betsy DeVos is everything Donald Trump said is wrong in America—an ultra-wealthy heiress who uses her money to game the system and push a special-interest agenda that is opposed by the majority of voters,” Weingarten said in her statement.

  • Civil rights advocates

Organizations including the NAACP and the League of United Latin American Citizens, said in a joint letter that they “are deeply troubled by the unacceptable rhetoric of the President-elect during his campaign and the absence of a record of DeVos’ support for these students,” referring to immigrant students and those with disabilities. They also argued DeVos has demonstrated a “lack of respect” for the diversity in the nation’s schools. And the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights also opposes her nomination, saying in a statement that they “reject the notion that children are well served by the dismantling of a public school system that serves 90 percent of all American students.”

  • Lily Eskelsen García, National Education Association President

Like her counterpart Weingarten, García made her displeasure clear right of the gate. “She has lobbied for failed schemes, like vouchers—which take away funding and local control from our public schools—to fund private schools at taxpayers’ expense,” Garcia said of DeVos in her November statement.

  • Diane Ravitch, education historian and activist

Ravitch, an opponent of charter schools and private school choice programs, wrote a satirical piece expressing support for DeVos in which she said, “I don’t agree with any of her ideas about school reform, but I think it would be refreshing to hear candid advocacy for privatizing and eliminating public schools instead of privatizers pretending that they want to ‘improve public schools.’ They don’t.”

  • Anti-Common Core Activists

After Trump picked her as his nominee, DeVos said she was not a supporter of the Common Core State Standards. But some common-core foes such as Stop Common Core in Michigan (DeVos’ home state), for example, have said that statement “is not an accurate representation of her actions regarding common core.” And common-core opponent Jane Robbins highlighted conservative grassroots activists’ dismay about DeVos. Robbins, however, didn’t totally dismiss DeVos as a nominee: She wrote, for example, how DeVos could counteract suspicion by bringing critics of the standards to the U.S. Department of Education.

  • Harrison Blackmond, Michigan Democrats for Education Reform Executive Director

“It’s rather clear that she doesn’t think the federal government should have any role in education, that that should be a strictly state function,” Blackmond told us right after DeVos was announced. “I happen to think differently.” Interestingly, DFER as a national organization took a mixed position, praising DeVos for helping charter schools grow, but worrying about her potential approach to the federal role in accountability.

  • Badass Teachers Association

Marla Kilfoyle, the executive director of the union splinter group, said in a statement following DeVos’ nomination: “Public education is not a business. Public education is not a competition. In competition and business there are winners and losers. Public education should be about nurturing our most valuable resource—our children.” The group opposes school choice and what it calls the attempts to privatize traditional public schooling.

So who did we leave off our lists? Let us know in the comments section.

Photos from top: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Ky., left, sits in his office with Betsy DeVos after President-elect Donald Trump nominated her to be education secretary (AP Photo/Susan Walsh); Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, who has worked with DeVos through his advocacy group, has praised her nomination (Mark Humphrey/AP); AFT President Randi Weingarten, right, and NEA President Lily Eskelsen García, seen at the Democratic National Convention last summer, are united in their opposition to DeVos.

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