Betsy DeVos has been in the public spotlight most recently as the U.S. Secretary of Education. However, long before she was appointed and confirmed to this position, DeVos was an avid supporter of choice in the U.S. public school system. She worked closely with her husband, Dick DeVos, to support, fund and run organizations that enhance the educational experience for all children and allow their parents to play a more active role in selecting the school that they think will provide the most opportunities for their children.
DeVos spent years running the American Federation for Children as a 501(c)(4) organization. It operated as the umbrella of Alliance for School Choice, which is a 501(c)(3) organization that educates the public about the benefits of providing more educational choice for families across the country. The reason why DeVos chose this avenue for all of her reform efforts is that she realized she could only do so much by providing scholarships to children from low-income families to attend private schools. While she was encouraged by the progress that she was making in funding educational opportunities for children who would not otherwise have access to quality schools, DeVos wanted to think bigger. She believed that all students are deserving of the opportunity to attend a school where they have the best chance of realizing their potential.
When asked about which areas have made the most progress in the area of educational reform, DeVos points to Florida as a shining example of the success of greater choice in education. She thinks that the reform-minded politicians in that state have gone far in making educational choice a non-partisan issue. According to DeVos, the major challenges she faces in promoting her educational choice agenda across the U.S. is that many democratic politicians rely on support from teachers’ unions, which almost always oppose school choice programs.
One of the ways that DeVos sees school choice as a game changer for the entire educational system is that it will encourage all schools to raise the bar in order to compete for the best students and more funding. Schools will no longer be able to rely on zip code zoning as the way in which they receive students and are appropriated funding. In order to stay open and be provided the resources that schools typically want, they will have to do their best to compete with their peer schools to entice more parents to enroll their children at those schools. DeVos sees new technology available in schools as a crucial part of the equation in offering more opportunities for students. Digital learning allows parents who want to home school their children the same access to updated content and learning resources that children would receive in a traditional public school classroom. This also makes it easier for students who live in remote or rural areas to keep pace with more urban schools that have traditionally had more access to learning resources and some of the top teaching talent.
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