In selecting Betsy DeVos to be the next secretary of education, President-elect Trump has bestowed a great honor to the state of Michigan. DeVos would be the first Michiganian to serve in a presidential Cabinet since Spencer Abraham served as energy secretary during George W. Bush’s first term.
While much has been written about DeVos’ philosophy, not enough attention has been given to her character. She and her husband, Dick DeVos, are remarkably civic-minded people who give back generously to our state in a multitude of ways. Incredibly, the DeVos family has been attacked in recent weeks for using their personal resources to advocate for an education policy agenda that they feel passionate about and believe to be in the best interests of school children.
To the naysayers, I ask what do you think the motivations of DeVos are? The answer is simply that she and her husband want children no matter their race, income, or ZIP code to have access to great schools and great teachers that prepare them for success in the workforce. DeVos cares deeply about the well-being of children, especially low-income children who are often trapped in dangerous and woefully underperforming schools. She is also a leader in the movement to recruit mentors to help place at-risk children on the right path to successful lives and she has personally mentored children.
DeVos has a big heart and she believes strongly that parental control of education through school choice is integral to improving the performance of our K-12 system. Contrary to the misleading picture the teachers unions are trying to paint, she shares her support for school choice with several fair-minded and prominent Democrats, including Barack Obama’s two education secretaries, John King and Arne Duncan.
In fact, Mr. King headed up a charter school himself and has helped drive a significant increase in charter school enrollment nationwide during the Obama presidency.
Those of us in Michigan who know DeVos the best are thrilled that President-elect Trump has selected her to drive his education agenda. As a governor, I am optimistic that the Trump Administration will follow through on its promise to dramatically reduce the power of Washington and shift more decision making back to the states.
It is time for our elected leaders in Washington to pay more respect to the 10th Amendment. Shrinking the bureaucracy inside the Department of Education would be a great place to start. Since its inception in 1980, the Education Department has engaged in mission creep, as its budget has grown almost sixfold from $12 billion to more than $70 billion today. With this growth in spending has come an avalanche of top-down rules and regulations that tie the hands of state and local governments and soak up dollars that should be directed to the classroom.
DeVos will be a forceful advocate for local and parental control of education. She believes in giving parents a far larger voice in how and where their children are educated, and freeing up the hands of governors and local leaders to innovate with bold education reforms to hold our schools accountable for better results for those families.
The stakes for our nation are high. We need to get education reform right. Today, over 40 percent of American employers report having difficulties finding talented workers to fill job openings, according to Manpower’s annual Talent Shortage Survey. This report corresponds with an equally discouraging fact that only 40 percent of recent high school graduates are deemed to be college or workforce ready. If we are to remain an economic power, we must raise the bar on education and close the skills gap in our nation.
I believe that Betsy DeVos is a strong leader who will focus on this challenge each and every day as our next secretary of education. She is a remarkable person who has already made Michigan proud. I know she has a lot more to contribute and she can continue to make a big difference in the lives of school children in Michigan and across the nation.
Rick Snyder is the governor of Michigan.