Devos’ Educational Power Plays

Betsy Devos, the current administration’s education secretary, is a proponent of school choice. Though the idea of equal funding for private and public schools may not seem controversial, an in-depth look at the issue reveals conflicts between church and state and between the rich and the poor.


School choice advocates believe that all parents, regardless of income, have the right to choose a school that best suits their children’s needs and their own ideological preferences. In accordance with this belief, Devos and others advocate for publicly funded private charter schools. Parents can also opt for vouchers to cover the costs of private tuition at either secular or religious schools. Critics see these policies as a means to reduce funding for public schools and to potentially eliminate secular and equal education for all.


While this fight continues to play out in states, including Devos’ home state of Michigan where she flexed her wealth and political power to block legislation that challenged charter school autonomy, Devos is leading the charge for charters and vouchers at the national level.


On the national stage, Devos is navigating conflicting ideologies. A recent example can be seen in her reaction to the removal of transgender protections in public schools. Under the Obama administration, transgender students were granted the option to use the bathroom of the gender to which they identify. Under the current administration, the ruling was rescinded. Devos’ was not in support of rescinding the rule, however, once the decision was made she stood by the president.


Critics perceived her actions as an unwillingness to stand up for her convictions. Those who know Devos politically saw her actions as savvy. Devos may have limited experience in education administration, but she has been the Republican party chair of Michigan and has engaged in school reform policy since her undergraduate years at Calvin College in Western Michigan. Her understanding of political power plays is a strength that often goes unacknowledged. American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten met with Devos soon after the transgender ruling. She told the New York Times the secretary “comes across as personable, plain-spoken, but she is dangerous.”


Michigan-based Republican strategist Greg McNeilly told the Times that her decision to reach out to the left-leaning American Federation of Teachers and the National Education Association underscores her political savvy. McNeilly called it “a smart move,” adding that Devos “knows how to play power politics.” Learn more:


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