Trump chooses school choice advocate to head Education Department

President-elect Donald Trump has named Michigan school choice advocate and GOP donor Betsy DeVos as his choice for education secretary.

Trump made the announcement Wednesday morning.

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Betsy DeVos (Wikipedia photo.)

“Betsy DeVos is a brilliant and passionate education advocate,” Trump said in a statement. “Under her leadership we will reform the U.S. education system and break the bureaucracy that is holding our children back so that we can deliver world-class education and school choice to all families.”

DeVos, of Grand Rapids, Mich., chairs the American Federation for Children. The Washington, D.C. group describes itself as “the leading national advocacy organization promoting school choice, with a specific focus on advocating for school vouchers, scholarship tax credit programs and education savings accounts.”

This would put DeVos in sync with Trump’s most prominent education position. During the campaign, the Republican nominee proposed a $20 billion block grant program to jumpstart state school choice and voucher programs.

Here’s some more about DeVos, and her long-established ties to the school choice movement and Republican politics. (More details from Education Week, the Detroit News and Politico):

  • In 1993, DeVos pushed for the passage of Michigan’s charter school law.
  • In 2000, DeVos and her husband Dick pushed unsuccessfully for a charter school constitutional amendment in Michigan.
  • Betsy DeVos is a former state GOP chair in Michigan, and her husband ran unsuccessfully for governor in Michigan.
  • During the campaign, Betsy DeVos withheld her support of Trump, and Politico reported that she cast her vote at the July GOP convention for Ohio Gov. John Kasich.

Her selection drew initial mixed reviews in GOP circles.

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush — who famously clashed with Trump during his failed run for the GOP nomination — had nothing but praise for the president-elect’s pick.

“Betsy DeVos is an outstanding pick for Secretary of Education,” said Bush, the chairman of the Tallahassee, Fla.-based Foundation for Excellence in Education. “Her allegiance is to families, particularly those struggling at the bottom of the economic ladder, not to an outdated public education model that has failed them from one generation to the next.”

DeVos sits as on the board of directors for Bush’s foundation.

And at least one conservative called these ties troubling.

“Betsy DeVos would be a very Jeb-like pick,” Frank Cannon, president of the American Principles Project, told Politico. “It is puzzling, then, to see reports that the Trump transition team is considering an establishment, pro-Common Core secretary of education – this would not qualify as ‘draining the swamp’ – and it seems to fly in the face of what Trump has stated on education policy up to this point.”

DeVos herself took to Twitter Wednesday to say she opposes Common Core, which she calls a “federalized boondoggle.”

Trump has said he wants to repeal Common Core — although the president and the education secretary may have little power to overturn academic standards established at the state level.

Meanwhile, DeVos’ choice also drew fire from the president of a national teachers’ union.

“The president-elect, in his selection of Betsy DeVos, has chosen the most ideological, anti-public education nominee put forward since President Carter created a Cabinet-level Department of Education,” said Randi Weingarten of the American Federation of Teachers. “In nominating DeVos, Trump makes it loud and clear that his education policy will focus on privatizing, defunding and destroying public education in America.”

The next education secretary could head a federal agency under close scrutiny. On the campaign trail, Trump pledged to either mothball the U.S. Education Department, or greatly diminish its size and scope.

DeVos’ nomination is subject to Senate confirmation.