Though it’s only some 25 years old, the concept of school choice has taken firm hold on the imagination of Americans. U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos champions the fact that 17 states and the District of Columbia host more than a quarter-million of the country’s students in private school programs that are publicly funded. And that the number of enrollees grew by 40,000 within the last year alone.


DeVos says that her interest in school choice was gradual. One key moment was when she and her husband, Dick DeVos, toured the private Potter’s House Christian School when they their own children were young. The Grand Rapids, Michigan school has offered an educational alternative for low-income families for more than three decades, and the DeVoses saw how important it was to the parents of the children enrolled.


The two kept visiting the school and started to subsidize tuition payments for individual families. Today the DeVoses donate substantially to the operation of Potter’s House. While Betsy and Dick had the resources to send their own kids to the school of their choice, they felt it was only fair that others with fewer resources should be able to do the same.


With that goal in mind, Dick DeVos successfully ran for Michigan’s State Board of Education in 1990, and Betsy started a foundation to offer scholarships to low-income families for private school education. But she saw that she could only help relatively few students that way and that more foundational changes would have to be made in order to make a real difference.


She joined the boards of Children First America and the American Education Reform Council, organizations dedicated to the expansion of school choice through tax credits and vouchers.


DeVos chaired the Michigan Republican Party and then founded the Great Lakes Education Project in the early 2000s to lead the expansion of charter school options in her state.


This proved so successful that she and others took the effort to a national level through the American Federation for Children, which is an umbrella organization associated with the political action committee Alliance for School Choice.


Today, DeVos champions a package of options that go beyond reliance on the school nearest students’ homes. In addition to tax credits and vouchers, this array of choices includes charter schools, magnet schools, homeschooling and even online education.


Among accomplishments of which she is most proud are recently expanded educational options in Florida, where more than 50,000 students go to the schools of their family’s choice through tax credits.


She says that other major successes include new schooling options in Indiana and in Louisiana, where advocates went up against a hostile state school board. In those two states alone, more than one million students could take advantage of new choices.


Betsy DeVos feels that today’s technology and lack of reliance on brick and mortar school rooms will work to the benefit of reformers. After all, if Americans can shop from a virtual store across the country, while propped up in bed, why can’t they take advantage of digital and blended learning options?


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