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After 21 years of fighting to get public funding for private education in Michigan, Betsy DeVos finally gets what she wanted with new legislation passed last week

October 24, 2021

Betsy DeVos and her husband, Dick DeVos, have been at the forefront of the anti-public education movement for more than three decades. They both embraced the Heritage Foundation’s effort to undermine the public school system, which began during the Reagan years.

In 2000, Betsy DeVos led a campaign to put the issue of school vouchers on the ballot in Michigan. That ballot initiative failed, but DeVos did not give up. Betsy made the decision to diversify the kind of tactics that the so-called School Choice movement. These tactics included financially backing candidates at the state and federal level, candidates who would push for an anti-public education platform.

A second tactic employed by Betsy DeVos, was to attack public teacher unions. This involved putting out misinformation about public school educators, but it also meant that policies would be adopted that undermined teacher unions and hurt them financially, forcing school districts to diminish public school teacher benefits.

A third tactic used by the former US Education Secretary was to work with far right think tanks like the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, the Acton Institute, and any other think tank that was a member of the State Policy Network. This tactic was useful in that this network of think tanks would craft position papers, engage in public misinformation campaigns and work to influence state legislators on public school policies. In addition, Betsy DeVos and other members of her family would make significant financial contributions to these think tanks, along with acting as members of the Board of Directors.

One last tactic that Betsy used, a tactic that began right after her 2000 School Voucher ballot initiative was defeated, was to create her own front group in Michigan, known as the Great Lakes Education Project (GLEP). GLEP became a primary mechanism to influence state legislators and to attack public education and public school teachers unions.GLEP has been instrumental in weakening public school districts across Michigan, with Detroit being one of the best examples.

In 2006, Dick DeVos ran for Governor of Michigan, which included a “school choice” platform. Dick DeVos lost that election, but ten years later, Betsy DeVos would land an even bigger political position, becoming the US Secretary of Education in the Trump administration. As Secretary of Education, DeVos used her position to continue to push for education policies that would further undermine public education and promote charter and other private or religious schools. One major policy initiative that Betsy DeVos pushed was Education Freedom Scholarships, which would allow public money to be used for private and religious education. The legislation that Michigan adopted last week, is essentially what Betsy DeVos intended with her Education Freedom Scholarships, which would allow individual states to determine the use of public money for private and religious education.

Michigan Legislators passes bills to further the DeVos education agenda

On Tuesday, MLive reported:

Senate Bills 687 and 688 and House Bill 5405 passed Tuesday morning through House and Senate education committees and were approved by the Senate 20-16 shortly after. The House voted 55-48 Tuesday afternoon on a separate, similar package.

Republican sponsors of the legislation say it would offer more flexibility and choices in education and would address disparities in educational options available to students.

These bills will allow for public money to be used for private and religious education. In laying out the tactics used by Betsy DeVos above, you can see how those tactics were utilized in the passage of these new bills last week.

First, the DeVos family and their friends have contributed millions to state legislators to make sure they will introduce and vote for legislation that undermines public education. 

Second, the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, was one of the main proponents of the education bills passed last week.

Third, the DeVos-created Great Lakes Education Project, on the same day as the anti-public education bills passed, posted a statement in support of these same bills.

Last year, after the November Election, we posted an article talking about why it is important to continue to monitor the activities of Betsy DeVos, even after she stepped down as Secretary of Education.

What happened in Lansing last week, with the adoption of these set of bills that will further erode public education, clearly demonstrates that the influence of Betsy DeVos and her vast network are just as effective as having her in the Trump cabinet. The question for all of us is, how do we further prevent this type of attack on public education in the future? 

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