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Betsy DeVos’s Gracious Demeanor Masks Her Steely Determination

Betsy DeVos’s alignment with the Trump administration is seamless…or at least it seems that way. However, things are sometimes different behind the scenes.


Take, for example, when President Trump rescinded an Obama policy allowing transgender school students to use the bathroom that matched gender identity. While an unnamed aide said that DeVos had found fault with the ruling, she exhibited no such doubt when explaining the upcoming move to a group of transgender staffers at the U.S. Education Department she leads.


Soon after, in a speech before the Conservative Political Action Conference, she criticized the Obama administration for its “overreach” on the issue, again revealing no air between the president’s views and her own.


That doesn’t mean she’s a pushover. Many who know of her school choice advocacy in Michigan know that DeVos can stay publicly gracious but turn fighter behind the scenes when she feels the need.


School Choice Leadership


Education choice is, after all, her baby. She practically introduced the concept in her state, and served as chairperson for such advocacy groups as the American Federation for Children (AFC) and the Alliance for School Choice.


She also served, for six years, as chairman of the Michigan Republican Party, but had no experience in national politics before her appointment as Education Secretary soon after President Trump took office.


Nevertheless, Randi Weingarten, president of the liberal-leaning American Federation of Teachers, says that although her demeanor is plain-spoken and personable, DeVos is “dangerous” in her relentlessness to achieve her goals her way.


Twin Strengths


DeVos comes from a background of both wealth and power. She’s a member of the Prince family that turned an auto parts business into a billion-dollar enterprise, and she married into the even wealthier DeVos family, the co-founders of Amway.


She’s put both strengths — wealth and power — to her goal of making charter schools an important part of the American educational system. To that effort, DeVos and her husband, Dick, co-founded the highly respected and tuition-free West Michigan Aviation Academy in her native Grand Rapids. The couple also originated the non-profit Education Freedom Fund for financing the school choice options of the underprivileged of the region.


Under their influence, the Detroit area has one of the highest concentrations of charter schools of various strengths and reputations. Betsy DeVos frequently clashed with the city’s public school system and expressed her belief that it should simply be shut down.


Steely Determination


As Education Secretary, DeVos feels that most public school systems work well, but she has shown no hesitation to confront those systems that are failing students. She is so controversial on the subject that she was only confirmed as Secretary by the tie-breaking vote of Vice President Mike Pence.


Seemingly in acknowledgement of her precarious position, one of the first steps DeVos took was to make contact with the leaders of both major teachers’ unions. The moves demonstrated the graciousness that shrouds her steely demeanor and passion for educational improvement through the competition of charter schools where public systems are failing.


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