Donald Trump announced Wednesday he has selected Michigan education activist and political megadonor Betsy DeVos as his nominee for secretary of education. The pick will please backers of school choice initiatives, but has the potential to upset grassroots activists against Common Core.
DeVos was one of two major education figures who met with Trump over the previous weekend. The other, former Washington, D.C., schools chancellor Michelle Rhee, announced Tuesday she was not seeking a job in the Trump administration.
DeVos, a billionaire businesswoman, is also the chairwoman of the American Federation for Children, a conservative non-profit that promotes school choice around the country. The group has been a major backer of both school vouchers and charter schools.
“I am honored to work with the President-elect on his vision to make American education great again,” DeVos said via Twitter. “The status quo in ed is not acceptable.”
Picking DeVos suggests the incoming Trump adminisration is prepared to push forward on Trump’s agenda of promoting school choice around the country. While it didn’t receive much press compared to other issues like immigration, late in the 2016 campaign Trump put out a plan to provide $20 billion in grant funding to the states for the purpose of furthering school choice.
Choosing DeVos also shows that Trump is going beyond his circle of loyalists to make Cabinet picks. DeVos donated to Jeb Bush, Carly Fiorina, and Marco Rubio during the 2016 presidential primary, and in March she blasted Trump as an “interloper” who didn’t represent GOP values.
The choice of DeVos, though, may upset grassroots activists who have campaigned hard against the Common Core. On the campaign trail, Trump repeatedly denounced Common Core as a “disaster” that he would eliminate as president. But in contrast to some other names suggested as contenders, DeVos lacks a long history of Common Core opposition, and has backed candidates for office who were in favor of it, sometimes over anti-Common Core challengers. She has also served on the board of the Foundation for Excellence in Education, a non-profit founded by Jeb Bush that has supported Common Core. (RELATED: Trump’s Common Core Promise Can’t Be Kept)
Joy Pullmann, an editor at The Federalist and vocal Common Core foe, blasted the pick at Conservative Review before it was even officially announced.
“Grassroots folks report to me that DeVos’s husband personally called state senators in Michigan to get them to vote against a Common Core repeal bill,” Pullmann said. “DeVos’s American Federation for Children also contributed huge sums of money for state school board races in Alabama on the side of Common Core supporters trying to oust Common Core opponents.”
On the other hand, Bush, the GOP’s most prominent Common Core supporter, praised DeVos as “an outstanding pick” for the job.
“I cannot think of more effective and passionate change agent to press for a new education vision, one in which students, rather than adults and bureaucracies, become the priority in our nation’s classrooms,” Bush said in a post on his Facebook page.
Update: In a tweet Wednesday afternoon, DeVos emphasized that she is not a supporter of Common Core, despite her substantial affiliations with supporters. She also linked to a page on her personal website, which provides further details about her opposition. On the page, DeVos suggests she supported Common Core’s goal of increasing school standards, but turned against it after the Obama Administration began promoting its adoption through programs like Race to the Top.
“I do support high standards, strong accountability, and local control,” DeVos says on the page. “When Governors such as John Engler, Mike Huckabee, and Mike Pence were driving the conversation on voluntary high standards driven by local voices, it all made sense … However, along the way, it got turned into a federalized boondoggle.”
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