Earlier this week, President-Elect Trump announced that his choice for U.S. Secretary of Education will be Betsy DeVos, a prominent advocate for school choice and charter schools. DeVos, who hails from Grand Rapids, Michigan, has accepted the position.
Betsy DeVos is the chair of the American Federation for Children, an organization responsible for crafting a proposal to grow charter and voucher programs intended to provide families with public funds to spend on private school tuition. In addition to her strong support for school choice, DeVos is a well-known philanthropist and Republican mega-donor. DeVos also serves on the board of the Foundation for Excellence in Education, a Jeb Bush-founded group which has strongly supported the Common Core State Standards Initiative (though she maintains personal opposition to them).
On music and arts, DeVos formerly served on the board of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. At the time of her departure, she and her husband, the 2006 Republican nominee for governor of Michigan, made a gift of $22.5 million in support of the training of arts leaders, through the DeVos Institute of Arts Management, based at the University of Maryland. More on that institution can be found here.
Analysts believe that the pick of DeVos signals Trump plans to follow through on a campaign promise to advocate for sweeping public education reform, focused primarily on school choice. Trump has proposed the creation of a $20 billion block grant intended to expand charter and private school options for economically disadvantaged children.
Prominent Republicans have started to weigh in on the pick, with Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Chairman Lamar Alexander of Tennessee calling DeVos an “excellent choice,” who has “worked for years to improve educational opportunities for all children.” Alexander continued to say, “As secretary, she will be able to implement the new law fixing No Child Left Behind just as Congress wrote it, reversing the trend to a national school board and restoring to states, governors, school boards, teachers and parents greater responsibility for improving education in their local communities.” The Chairman also indicated that he looked forward to working with DeVos “on the upcoming reauthorization of the Higher Education Act, giving us an opportunity to clear out the jungle of red tape that makes it more difficult for students to obtain financial aid and for administrators to manage America’s 6,000 colleges and universities.”
Meanwhile, HELP Ranking Member Patty Murray of Washington pledged to “scrutinize her (DeVos) record closely and ask her important questions about her qualifications and experience, values and priorities, work and financial history, and plans for the department.”
The nomination of DeVos brings to a close a process which saw Trump consider candidates ranging from renowned neurosurgeon and former presidential candidate Dr. Ben Carson, to former Chancellor of Washington, D.C. Public Schools, Michelle Rhee. When the Trump administration takes over in the upcoming year, DeVos’ nomination will be presented to the U.S. Senate for confirmation; if approved, DeVos will be sworn in and begin her role.
In the weeks and months to come, NAfME will begin the process of building relationships with Betsy DeVos and her new team, and will work to make clear the national agenda for music education and how we hope to work together to realize that vision. More information will be shared as it becomes available.
Chris Woodside, Deputy Executive Director, Center for Advocacy, Policy, and Constituency Engagement, November 25, 2016. © National Association for Music Education (NAfME.org)