For the past 30 years, Betsy DeVos has worked within education reform, hoping to help lower-income families and students go to better schools. She has said in multiple interviews that students are her first priority. However, the former U.S. Education Secretary also knows that she is a polarizing figure.
To those who have criticized her background in business and being an outsider in government, she commented in an exit interview with EdWeek.org that this helped her as U.S. Education Secretary. She was able to come in with fresh eyes and look at policies that would help students, rather than “entrenched interests.”
DeVos commented in her interview with Rich Hess that slow bureaucratic processes created bottlenecks throughout her tenure, but she was still able to pass much of the legislation she supported, including educational choice.
Before her time in office, there were only 17 states with education choice. Now all states offer student choice programs. These programs allow students to choose where they want to go to school no matter where they live. This has been a huge initiative for the Department of Education, which is now helping thousands of families in every state send their kids to better schools.
Educational choice programs are largely misunderstood. Many opponents believe that public funding for private schools is to blame, but DeVos has refuted this several times in interviews. Most recently in 2018, she said that wasn’t how these programs worked. Philanthropy has been the major reason that these programs exist and allow for students to pay for tuition, though private schools aren’t the only schools involved in educational choice programs.
For example, students in Florida can go into magnet programs, which allow them to attend special programs at high schools, including public schools.
DeVos also created better policies for campus safety and preventing gun violence in schools, as well as new legislation for hybrid learning during the pandemic.
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