Donald Trump upsets right-wing base with pick of billionaire charter school advocate to head Department of Education

Trump's pick of Michigan billionaire Betsy DeVos has led some supporters, like Breitbart News, to cry foul

By Sophia Tesfaye
Published November 23, 2016 11:11PM (EST)

Some conservatives are railing against President-elect's Donald Trump's pick for the next U.S. Secretary of Education, decrying the selection of reform advocate Betsy DeVos as yet another broken campaign promise.

On Wednesday, the Trump transition announced Michigan billionaire Betsy DeVos as the education department head. And while Trump may not want to completely eliminate the agency, his pick is a clear indication that he wants to do away with public education as it exists -- and that is apparently still not enough for some of his supporters.

One-half of the biggest power couple in Michigan politics, DeVos is the former head of the state Republican Party and the founder of the Great Lakes Education Project, the state’s most vocal backer of private charter schools. DeVos has been called the “four-star general of the pro-voucher movement.” Chalkbeat reports:

The DeVos influence is one reason that Michigan’s charter sector is among the least regulated in the country. Roughly 80 percent of charters in Michigan are run by private companies, far more than in any other state.

“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,” Trump said in a statement.

Betsy's husband, Dick DeVos, is the heir to the Amway fortune and was a 2006 candidate for Michigan governor. As New York Magazine's Ed Kilgore recounted, "Dick DeVos was one of the early proponents of the rhetorical trick of undermining support for public schools by relabeling them “government schools.”

And as a 2014 Mother Jones profile put it, "The DeVoses sit alongside the Kochs, the Bradleys, and the Coorses as founding families of the modern conservative movement:"

Since 1970, DeVos family members have invested at least $200 million in a host of right-wing causes—think tanks, media outlets, political committees, evangelical outfits, and a string of advocacy groups. They have helped fund nearly every prominent Republican running for national office and underwritten a laundry list of conservative campaigns on issues ranging from charter schools and vouchers to anti-gay-marriage and anti-tax ballot measures.

Just in the last three elections before 2016, members of the family gave nearly $9.5 million to party committees and candidates, according to the New York Times:


But despite the family's history of contribution to the conservative movement nationwide and the DeVoses intense promotion of public funds to finance private schools around the country, Trump's selection Wednesday was met with criticism from some of his most vocal backers. (Trump has proposed creating a $20 billion federal voucher program for families to use to send their kids to the school of their choice.)

For the second time in as many days, Trump's largest online media backer departed from its usually sycophantic coverage to give Trump's latest transition decision a more critical look.

"Potential Trump education chief pick Betsy DeVos is a pro-Common Core, family donated to Clinton Foundation," a Breitbart headline read Wednesday:

Breitbart DeVos

Conservative commentator Michelle Malkin, a big time Trump backer, cited similar concerns over DeVos' supposed support for the nationalized standards imposed by the Obama administration. DeVos served on the board of former Florida governor and failed presidential candidate Jeb Bush’s Foundation for Excellence in Education, which supported the controversial standards.

Sophia Tesfaye

Sophia Tesfaye is Salon's senior editor for news and politics, and resides in Washington, D.C. You can find her on Twitter at @SophiaTesfaye.

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