Despite confirmation from politicos that Arnn was on President-elect Donald Trump’s shortlist for secretary of education, Hillsdale College President Larry Arnn said he was put at ease when Trump ultimately chose Michigan native Betsy DeVos Nov. 23.
“I had various discussions with various people along the way and thought [her selection] was likely,” Arnn said in an email to The Collegian. “I was relieved.”
Although she may not be the president of Hillsdale College, DeVos does have strong ties through her family and finances to the institution.
The 58-year-old billionaire philanthropist, GOP donor, and fierce advocate for school choice and voucher programs said in a statement after the announcement of her nomination that she is ready to “make American education great again.” Trump cited DeVos’ active GOP involvement and persistent education reform and school choice initiatives as the main reason behind his decision he chose her for education secretary.
“Betsy DeVos is a brilliant and passionate education advocate,” Trump said in a press release. “Under her leadership, we will reform the U.S. education system and break the bureaucracy that is holding our children back so that we can deliver world-class education and school choice to all families.”
Betsy DeVos is married to Dick DeVos, the heir to the billion-dollar Amway corporation and 2006 Republican nominee for Michigan governor. The DeVos family is known for its charitable giving. With a lifetime contribution of more than $1.2 billion to philanthropic organizations, the family placed No. 20 on Forbes’ annual list of the top 50 givers in the country. Their roots in Michigan philanthropy run deep and also intersect with Hillsdale College.
Betsy DeVos’ brother is Erik Prince, a 1992 graduate of Hillsdale College and the founder of the controversial private security firm Blackwater Worldwide, now named Academi. In 2009, the DeVos family also founded ArtPrize, an international art competition that featured the work of five art professors and students this year.
Most notably, Richard DeVos, Betsy DeVos’ father-in-law, co-founded Amway with Jay Van Andel. Van Andel’s son, Steve, was a 1978 graduate of Hillsdale and currently serves as the chairman of Amway. In 2013, after he donated to graduate school scholarships and operations, Hillsdale named it’s graduate school of statesmanship in his honor.
Although Betsy DeVos previously didn’t hold a national presence, for years, she has been influential in Michigan’s Republican Party and educational reforms.
DeVos became involved with the state Republican Party in 1982, later serving as its chairwoman from 2003 – 2005. During her tenure, she raised more than $150,000 on her own for President George W. Bush’s re-election campaign and even held a campaign dinner for him at her Grand Rapid home.
In 2003, DeVos started the All Children Matter PAC with her husband to promote school voucher programs and candidates who support them throughout the state. She has served on the boards of numerous school-reform initiatives, including the Alliance for School Choice, Advocates for School Choice, the American Education Reform Council, the Education Freedom Fund, Choices for Children, the Great Lakes Education Project, and the American Federation for Children.
DeVos’ appointment has numerous Republican politicians throughout Michigan applauding Trump’s decision, including Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder.
“I compliment President-elect Trump for his selection of Betsy DeVos as Secretary of Education,” Snyder said in a statement. “Michiganders know the passion Betsy has for reforming education in a way that puts kids first. Betsy’s appointment will mean great things for Michigan and for children around the nation as she takes her no-nonsense commitment to empowering parents to the highest levels in Washington.”
Although DeVos’ appointment aligns with Trump’s campaign platform to expand school choice, her affiliations with pro-Common Core organizations suggests disagreement with Trump’s repeated stance against the controversial national academic standards. DeVos was a former board member of several pro-common core groups, including the Foundation for Excellence in Education, a group led by former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush that aimed at promoting school choice as well as Common Core.
DeVos took to her website and personal twitter account to defend herself, and stated that she has never supported common core.
“Have organizations that I have been a part of supported Common Core? Of course. But that’s not my position,” DeVos wrote on her personal website. “Sometimes it’s not just students who need to do their homework.”
She solidified her stance and stated, “I am against Common Core — period.”
But some national conservatives remain skeptical, decrying DeVos as secretary of education. Frank Cannon, president of anti-Common Core group American Principles Project, said in a statement leading up to the news of DeVos’ appointment that her affiliation with Common Core makes her a very “Jeb Bush-like pick.”
“This would not qualify as ‘draining the swamp,’” Cannon said. “And it seems to fly in the face of what Trump has stated on education policy up to this point.”
While DeVos was Trump’s final pick for secretary of education, the Senate still need to approve her, after Trump is inaugurated.
Arnn, who was endorsed by Parents against Common Core when his name was being considered for secretary of education, said he doesn’t find her previous stance problematic and that he is sure she’ll do a great job as education secretary.
“I very much approve of her,” Arnn said. “I’m very glad she has said what she has since her appointment on Common Core. I have not spoken with her, but I wrote her a note of congratulations.”