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The Doug & Maria DeVos Foundation: directing the future of southeast Grand Rapids and infiltrating the Grand Rapids Public Schools

June 23, 2019

Over the past few months we have been posting articles about the various DeVos Family Foundations, including the Richard & Helen DeVos, Dick & Betsy DeVos and the foundation run by the main financial advisor to the DeVos family, Jerry Tubergen.

Today, we want to examine the Doug & Maria DeVos Foundation, since we recently obtained their 2017 foundation 990 financials. We will specifically be looking at 2015 – 2017, what is similar to the other DeVos foundations and what is different or unique about the Doug & Maria DeVos Foundation.

Capitalism, Conservative Politics and Christianity

Based on the 2015 – 2017 990 documents for the Doug & Maria DeVos Foundation, there are clear and consistent funding choices that are aligned with other DeVos family foundations.

The Doug & Maria DeVos Foundation has provided significant funding to several entities that promote a neoliberal brand of capitalism, such as the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, which received $1 million during the three years we looked at. However, the Mackinac Center doesn’t just promote neoliberal capitalism, they also craft public policy that is used by lawmakers and wealthy political donors like Doug & Maria DeVos, that push their ideological interests.

At the national level, the Doug & Maria DeVos Foundation contributed $4.5 million to the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), which does what the Mackinac Center does in Michigan, only AEI crafts and influences public policy in Washington, DC.

Other entities that the Doug & Maria Foundation substantially support at the national level are the National Constitution Center ($6 million), Wake Forest University ($13 million) and the Purdue Research Foundation ($10 million).

The National Constitution Center promotes and celebrates a more conservative view of US history, which is why Doug DeVos is Chairman of the Executive Committee for the Board of Trustees

Wake Forest University embraces and promotes conservative politics, particularly with education policy. The Wake Forest Review wrote a story in early 2017, which ardently defending the Trump administration’s choice for Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos. The article was headlined, Betsy DeVos is a Hope for School Choice. The article cites several neoliberal education organizations and claims that Betsy DeVos is committed to making sure that low-income students have access to quality education. Such a claim is erroneous and is not supported with actual data.

The Purdue Research Foundation (PRF) receives so much money from the Doug & Maria DeVos Foundation because one of the areas of concentration of the PRF is competition and entrepreneurship. According to the PRF site, Near the University’s main campus is PRF’s flagship incubator, Purdue Research Park (PRP), which is the largest university-affiliated business incubation complex in the country. This is exactly the kind of projects that the DeVos family loves to support, since they believe that everyone should be an entrepreneur.

Different & Unique

What makes the Doug & Maria DeVos Foundation somewhat different and unique from the other DeVos foundations, are their creation/funding of the group Amplify GR and the role that the foundation plays in the Grand Rapids Public Schools.

We have written numerous stories about Amplify GR, but what makes this DeVos-funded project so unique is that it seeks to fulfill what LINC could not for the Doug & Maria DeVos Foundation.

Someone from LINC told me in 2017, that the substantial funding they were receiving from the Doug & Maria DeVos Foundation was not fulfilling the goals of the DeVos agenda fast enough. Creating Amplify GR was a way to directly influence an area of the city that combined the core goals of the DeVos family, such as creating more businesses, promoting entrepreneurism and pushing a neoliberal educational model. Now, Amplify GR does provide some basic services that are beneficial to residents in southeast part of Grand Rapids, but they do it in such a way as to avoid having to deal with the history of systemic racism or exploitation that has plagued the area for decades. In addition, the Doug & Maria DeVos Foundation fund other social services in the southeast part of GR, which helps to downplay the role that the DeVos Family political funding has played in creating poverty and undermining civil rights. 

In addition, the DeVos family and Amplify GR has partnered with ICCF by funding the purchase of 177 homes throughout the city, homes that were previously gobbled up by investment companies during the economic crash of 2007 – 2008. We wrote about that purchase of 177 homes in late 2017 and asked how much money the DeVos family gave ICCF for those purchases. ICCF never responded to our request, but now that we have the 990s of several of the DeVos family foundations, we know that at least four of the family foundations each contributed $1,250,000 to ICCF, totaling $5 million. Providing $5 million to the largest affordable housing organization in Grand Rapids raises all kinds of questions, but it also means that it buys a great deal of silence, since ICCF would never dare to question or publicly oppose the racist and oppressive political machinations of the DeVos family, like the campaign contributions to an outwardly racist Senator from Mississippi

A second unique endeavor of the Doug & Maria DeVos Foundation has been the direct and indirect funding they have provided to the Grand Rapids Public Schools. People would expect the DeVos family to fund Christian Schools, which they do, at both the K-12 and college levels, but funding public education might seem contrary to the casual observer. However, their funding of public schools is very strategic and calculating.

According to their 990s between 2015 – 2017, the Doug & Maria DeVos Foundation provided $1,328,513 directly to the Grand Rapids Public Schools. However, there are several other major contributions to education-related entities within Grand Rapids, that are either directly connected to the GRPS or collaborates with the GRPS. These organizations are (followed by the contribution amount from the Doug & Maria DeVos Foundation):

Grand Rapids Student Advancement Foundation $1,122,800

Believe 2 Become $3,534,050

First Steps Kent $410,000

K-Connect $600,000

Kent Services Network $107,000

Leading Educators Inc. $2,145,000

Now, not only has the Doug & Maria DeVos Foundation contributed nearly $10 million to the GRPS and programs that work with the GRPS, the DeVos family also has direct involvement in the decision making of the entities listed above.

Thanks to a generous grant from the Doug & Maria DeVos Foundation, Leading Educators expanded to Greater Grand Rapids, Michigan, where the first cohort of principals and teacher leaders began training in the summer of 2017. Our approach is the backbone of an ambitious strategy to significantly increase academic achievement among economically-disadvantaged young people who attend the nearly 120 district, charter, and religious schools in the Greater Grand Rapids urban area.

For anyone concerned about the future of public education in the Grand Rapids area, they need to pay attention to the deeply entrenched role that the Doug & Maria Foundation and the DeVos family in general, plays in promoting a neoliberal education model, which ultimately undermines the traditional values of public education.

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