Betsy DeVos has not been much of a Trump fan, having sharply criticized him during the campaign, and spending much of her time raising money for other Republicans on the ballot.
The DeVos family are heirs to the Amway fortune, long scrutinized by critics as essentially being a Ponzi scheme. The family also has long been a leading source of money for Republicans, particularly in Michigan. In the three election preceding 2016, alone, members of the family have given nearly $10 million to the party committees and candidates.
Betsy DeVos was already wealthy prior to marrying Richard DeVos Jr., the Amway heir. Her father, Edgar Prince, built his own auto parts supplier in Holland, Michigan, and her brother, Erik, is the founder of Blackwater USA, the private security contractor that was contracted by the U.S. government during the Iraq war and whose guards were convicted of killing 14 civilians in Baghdad in 2007.
DeVos’ appointment signals that Trump is serious about the $290 billion school voucher plan he rolled out on the campaign trail. The proposal would redirect large sums of the federal education budget away from school districts and toward parents, allowing them to spend a voucher at a public or private school of their choice, probably including for profit, virtual, and religious schools.
The voucher program could be a windfall for companies hoping to make money from the public education system. Another sign as to where things are headed is the fact that the Trump campaign tapped Rob Goad, an aide to Indiana Republican Congressman Luke Messer. Messer is a strong proponent of the for profit higher education system that President Obama has fought to rein in.
Douglas Harris, an economist at Tulane University and director of the Education Research Alliance for New Orleans said, “We’ve never seen an effect as negative as the private school voucher program. Of all the ideas I’ve heard bandied about in various policy areas, this is the one most likely to happen. Trump is talking about it and clearly thinks it’s a good idea.”
The National Education Association, the nation’s largest teachers’ union, was quick to voice its opposition to DeVos’ nomination:
“Her efforts over the years have done more to undermine public education than support students. She has lobbied for failed schemes, like vouchers — which take away funding and local control from our public schools — to fund private schools at taxpayers’ expense. These schemes do nothing to help our most-vulnerable students while they ignore or exacerbate glaring opportunity gaps. She has consistently pushed a corporate agenda to privatize, de-professionalize and impose cookie-cutter solutions to public education.”