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When Dick DeVos says he wants to do something about public education it should scare the shit out of us

February 6, 2013

Yesterday, WOOD TV8 ran a story that began with the display of drawings of what the new entertainment facility at the BOB in downtown Grand Rapids will look like.Picture 3

The story quickly turned into cheerleading for the group that worked on getting public funding for the BOB’s expansion, Grand Action. Grand Action was formed in 1991 and has made it their stated goal to develop the downtown of Grand Rapids.

This development has included the arena, the convention center, the civic theater, medical mile and more recently the downtown “market.” What the channel 8 story does not mention, and what local news people generally fail to report on, are the tactics in which Grand Action has used over the years and who are the primary beneficiaries of their projects.

One tactic that Grand Action has used over the years is to use public funding on these projects, without public input. We reported on the millions of public dollars that has been obtained by Grand Action in the course of the acquisition of the property and the construction of the new downtown market.

When it comes to beneficiaries of these downtown projects, all one has to do is look at who owns the hotels, bars, parking areas and other venues that have made a great deal of money due to the Grand Action projects. The DeVos family has certainly expanded their empire, especially with their near monopoly of the hotel business, but others businesses have also benefited tremendously. Not surprising, some of these other business owners are also involved with Grand Action, which is just another reflection of the interlocking systems of power in Grand Rapids.

DeVos and Public Education

The other aspect of the WOOD TV8 story, which was very instructive, was the commentary by Dick DeVos about public education in Grand Rapids. DeVos is quoted as saying, “They have been failing miserably, frankly, and it has got to change. I’m encouraged by new leadership, but we need action.”

Anyone hearing or reading such a statement who hasn’t bought the propaganda of the DeVos family, would either be rolling on the ground in laughter or fuming with rage. The fact that the channel 8 reporter doesn’t ask a follow up question to such a statement is also telling.

It is no secret that Dick and Betsy DeVos have not only given millions of dollars to fund private schools, but they have provided an equal amount of dollars to undermine public education by funding school voucher schemes and charter schools.thepublicenemy

In 2002, Dick DeVos gave a speech to the conservative think tank, the Heritage Foundation. In that speech DeVos lays out a strategy for attacking and undermining public education. Here is the text of that speech:

“Where’s the battle going to be fought, for the future? In my view it will be, and at this point it needs to be, fought at the state level–utilizing vehicles such as GLEP and others nationally but ideally these organizations must be constructed locally. They need to be constructed with individuals such as the staff we had in Michigan, who were intelligent and connected with the local grassroots politics of what was going on, that had the relationships, the insights, and the political sensitivity to know what was happening. 

And so while those of us on the national level can give support, we need to encourage the development of these organizations on a state-by-state basis, in order to be able to offer a political consequence, for opposition, and political reward, for support of, education reform issues. 

That has got to be the battle. It will not be as visible. And, in fact, to the extent that we on the right, those of us on the conservative side of the aisle, appropriate education choice as our idea, we need to be a little bit cautious about doing that, because we have here an issue that cuts in a very interesting way across our community and can cut, properly communicated, properly constructed, can cut across a lot of historic boundaries, be they partisan, ethnic, or otherwise. 

And so we’ve got a wonderful issue that can work for Americans. But to the extent that it is appropriated or viewed as only a conservative idea it will risk not getting a clear and a fair hearing in the court of public opinion. So we do need to be cautious about that. 

We need to be cautious about talking too much about these activities. Many of the activities and the political work that needs to go on will go on at the grass roots. It will go on quietly and it will go on in the form that often politics is done – one person at a time, speaking to another person in privacy. And so these issues will not be, maybe, as visible or as noteworthy, but they will set a framework within states for the possibility of action on education reform issues.”

Lastly, it is important to note that in the channel 8 story DeVos says he is “encouraged” by the new leadership at the GRPS. Indeed, there have been several superintendents that have been willing to push a neoliberal agenda for the Grand Rapids Public Schools for over a decade.

This neoliberal agenda has resulted in several rounds of school consolidation, the elimination of some important programs, privatizing the busing system, attacking the teachers union and drastically downsizing staff. It is no wonder that DeVos would be “encouraged” by such actions, since it fits in well with his own plans.

6 Comments leave one →
  1. Sondra permalink
    February 6, 2013 4:21 pm

    I found Dick DeVos’s comment VERY disturbing. Thanks for reporting on this and connecting the dots.

  2. john permalink
    February 6, 2013 5:39 pm

    How do you account for the fact that the Devos family has started contributing money to the Grand Rapids Public Schools (for example, its Center for Economicology) after years of funding antagonistic measures?

  3. February 6, 2013 5:53 pm

    John, I think there funding of GRPS programs makes sense in that they not only are antagonistic to public schools from the outside, but can influence school policy through funding. As I said in the article, DeVos clearly supports the neoliberal direction that the current GRPS administration is going in and if funding specifics programs helps to further his goals, then it makes complete sense. It is the same reason why Steve Van Andel gave $3 million to the Prep School on Division.

Trackbacks

  1. Foundation Profile: Dick & Betsy DeVos Foundation « Grand Rapids Institute for Information Democracy
  2. Is Grand Rapids really better off with the likes of DeVos? | Grand Rapids Institute for Information Democracy
  3. What Betsy DeVos as Education Secretary Might Look Like | Grand Rapids Institute for Information Democracy

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