Betsy DeVos: Free Speech and Education Advocate

Betsy DeVos, current US Education Secretary, warned of free speech eroding at many colleges around the country at the recent Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), she said the issue is “timely and serious.”


She said the suppression of free speech and debate is growing and should be addressed. She said there are “more and more examples on college campuses in recent years of shutting down free speech and open expression and debate around ideas.”


College should be a place where a student is exposed to new ideas, she said, adding that the possibility of this happening today is shrinking.


“The administration is committed to upholding freedom of expression and exchange of ideas, and we will be continuing to advance this notion that the place to have fights, so to speak, is in the battle of ideas.”


DeVos has always been active in political causes as well as education reform. She started off at Calvin College where she became politically active on campus. She has pursued this interest for 30 years, serving six years as Chairman of the Republican Party in Michigan. She has served on local and national boards, has conducted campaigns, and has headed several charitable organizations. She has served as chairman of the Dick and Betsy DeVos Family Foundation, the DeVos Institute for Arts Management at Kennedy Center, and the Foundation for Excellence in Education.


Being an advocate for school choice, she has chaired the American Federation for Children (AFC) and the Alliance for School Choice.


She became interested in school choice when her own children entered school. She and her husband, Dick, visited a school in Grand Rapids which served mostly low-income children and were impressed by the education they were receiving. They decided to help and started supporting the school with scholarships for the children and other expenses. She became involved with an organization which also gave scholarships to families looking for school choice.


In the 1990s, she became more involved in national organizations pushing for state vouchers and tax credits. She then started a political action committee (PAC) called the Great Lakes Education Project working for charter schools and choice. In 2001 and 2002, the success of this effort led to the establishment of All Children Matter with DeVos as chairwoman. Writing, passing and implementing legislation was the goal. Along with two other organizations, American Federation for Children and Alliance for School Choice, success was achieved on a large scale. Florida, Louisiana and Indiana have vibrant school choice programs.


DeVos believes there is growing interest in school choice. Usually favored by conservative Republicans, she feels that Democrats are becoming more interested, especially at the state level. She said they must be “wooed.”


Her vision of school is almost revolutionary. She would like to see school choice allowing children to attend schools that are not assigned to them by boards of education based on zip codes. In fact, she would also like to see the actual school buildings disappear to let children feel free. She approves of home-schooling and online learning.


The school choice movement is growing, according to DeVos. Polls show that it is popular in a number of states where it is offered. Her hard work has had much influence on the success of these projects.


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