DeVos to face questions on schools, conservative activism


Associated Press

WASHINGTON

Charter-school advocate Betsy DeVos is widely expected to push for expanding school choice programs if confirmed as education secretary, prompting pushback from teachers unions. But Democrats and activists also are raising concerns about how her conservative Christian beliefs and advocacy for family values might impact minority and LGBT students.

The wealthy Republican donor’s financial and political clout will be on display today as she goes before the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, which has members who have benefited from her largesse. Committee Chairman Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., said that DeVos “will work tirelessly to ensure every child has access to a high quality education.”

Critics say the choice of DeVos belies President-elect Donald Trump’s promises to “drain the swamp” and bring new faces to politics and policy in Washington.

“He is basically proposing a bunch of people to be in the Cabinet that are political insiders with lots of money and have used that money to buy politicians, and DeVos definitely fits that description,” said Carmel Martin, executive vice president of the Center for American Progress, a liberal think-tank.

DeVos has long taken pride in her political and financial activity.

“I have decided to stop taking offense at the suggestion that we are buying influence,” DeVos wrote in a 1997 column in Roll Call. “Now I simply concede the point. They are right. We do expect something in return.” She said wants to foster a conservative governing philosophy and respect for traditional values.

DeVos, a former Michigan Republican Party chairwoman, heads the American Federation for Children, an advocacy group that promotes school choice and voucher programs. She and members of her family have given millions of dollars to Republican candidates over nearly three decades, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

She grew up in Holland, Mich., one of four children of Edgar Prince, an engineer who made a fortune in an auto-parts company. She met her husband, Dick DeVos, an heir to the Amway marketing empire, while attending a Christian liberal arts college. Dick DeVos unsuccessfully ran for governor of Michigan in 2006. During that campaign he suggested that schools should teach intelligent design, a theory that holds that life was created by a higher force, along with evolution. The couple has four children, none of whom attended public school.

DeVos spent the past two decades advancing charter schools – institutions that are run privately but financed with taxpayers’ money.

Labor unions and civil rights groups question whether DeVos’ traditional beliefs may prevent her from championing the interests of LGBT students and other minorities.

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