Trump to nominate Betsy DeVos for Education secretary

Trump to nominate Betsy DeVos for Education secretary
© Jonathan Swan

President-elect Donald Trump is nominating Betsy DeVos for Education secretary.

Trump in a statement Wednesday called DeVos a "brilliant and passionate education advocate."

“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. I am pleased to nominate Betsy as Secretary of the Department of Education," Trump said

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DeVos said she was "honored" and vowed to work with the president-elect on his "vision to make American education great again."

“The status quo in education is not acceptable," she said in a statement. "Together, we can work to make transformational change that ensures every student in America has the opportunity to fulfill his or her highest potential."

DeVos is a vocal advocate of school choice and vouchers to allow parents to send their children to alternative schools. Those policies are strongly opposed by teachers unions. She is the current chairwoman of the American Federation for Children, an education advocacy group pushing school choice policies.

Teachers unions were quick to blast her selection.

Randi Weingarten of the American Federation of Teachers said with the nomination of DeVos, Trump “makes it loud and clear that his education policy will focus on privatizing, defunding and destroying public education in America.”

Betsy Devos, a billionaire GOP donor, once served as head of the Michigan Republican Party.

She is married to Dick DeVos, the son of billionaire patriarch Richard DeVos Sr., co-founder of the direct-selling company Amway. The DeVos family has spent hundreds of millions of dollars over the past several decades on philanthropic and conservative causes.

She also co-founded the Windquest Group, an organization that invests in technology and manufacturing and has spent millions of dollars lobbying for school voucher programs across the country, The Washington Post reported.

During Trump’s presidential campaign, DeVos was originally reluctant to get on board with the GOP contender.

She said earlier this year she was neither personally nor economically invested in the outcome of the presidential race.

“I cannot see a Hillary ClintonHillary Rodham Clinton Fox News was Trump voters' top source for election news: Pew Democrats remind Trump that he must govern for all citizens Chelsea Manning's redemption proves how far WikiLeaks has fallen MORE presidency and be in any way comfortable with that or supportive of that or happy with that,” DeVos told The Hill in July during the Republican National Convention. “[But] I haven’t got there on the other side of the equation.”

She donated money to Republican presidential candidates Carly Fiorina and Jeb Bush and then supported Sen. Marco RubioMarco RubioTop Dem: Don’t bring Tillerson floor vote if he doesn’t pass committee Booker to vote against Tillerson Rubio wades into Trump-Lewis feud MORE (R-Fla.), according to the Post.

After Trump in September released a plan that included a proposal to redirect $20 billion in federal spending toward a grant program to expand vouchers and private school options, DeVos offered praise.

“We know that millions of children, mostly low-income and minority children, remain trapped in K-12 schools that are not meeting their needs,” DeVos said in September. “We applaud the Trump campaign’s focus on school choice and laying out common-sense proposals to help all children access a quality education.”

DeVos is likely to face scrutiny from conservatives over her past support for Common Core educational standards.

DeVos originally supported the controversial standards at the state level, and funded a group, the Great Lakes Education Project, to promote them. A source familiar with her thinking said earlier this month that she opposed Common Core once it became a federal standard.

DeVos on Wednesday tried to assuage conservatives worried about her previous support of the controversial standards.

"Many of you are asking about Common Core. To clarify, I am not a supporter—period," DeVos tweeted.

DeVos on her website explained she supports "high standards, strong accountability, and local control."

"When Governors such as John Engler, Mike Huckabee, and Mike PenceMike (Michael) Richard PencePence: I’m ‘confident’ in Trump’s health pick Pence: NATO mission 'will go forward' Overnight Defense: Obama defends Manning commutation after backlash | Mattis clears Senate panel MORE were driving the conversation on voluntary high standards driven by local voices, it all made sense," DeVos said on her website.

"Have organizations that I have been a part of supported Common Core? Of course. But that’s not my position. Sometimes it’s not just students who need to do their homework. However, along the way, it got turned into a federalized boondoggle."

Other notable Republicans who once backed those standards similarly changed their views, arguing that they were an example of federal overreach, including former Gov. Jeb Bush (R-Fla.). Bush faced tough questions from conservatives during his own failed presidential bid about his education policies, in particular Common Core.

On Wednesday, he also praised Trump's selection of DeVos, calling her an "outstanding pick."

"She has a long and distinguished history championing the right of all parents to choose schools that best ensure their children’s success. 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," he said in a Facebook post.

Former Speaker Newt Gingrich, a Trump adviser, also praised the president-elect’s choice.

“Betsy DeVos will be great Secretary of Education,” Gingrich tweeted on Wednesday.

“Her passion for every child having a good education is proven by years of work in Michigan.”

The choice, though, drew some criticism from education conservatives.

“President-elect Trump rightly slammed Governor Jeb Bush for his support of Common Core on the campaign trail,” said Frank Cannon, president of American Principles Project, which opposes Common Core, according to The Post.

“Betsy DeVos would be a very Jeb-like pick.”

This story was updated at 3:45 p.m.