There’s a Bill Murray quote that I think sums up DeVos’s experience as Educational Secretary so far. It goes:
“I always want to say to people who want to be rich and famous: ‘try being rich first’. See if that doesn’t cover most of it. There’s not much downside to being rich, other than paying taxes and having your relatives ask you for money. But when you become famous, you end up with a 24-hour job.”
DeVos has a lot of money. Like, a lot of money. It’s something people love to slam her for. Her limitless funds have contributed to numerous establishments in her hometown of Grand Rapids – the DeVos Performance Hall (with adjoining wine bar), the DeVos Place Convention Center, the DeVos Children’s Hospital, the DeVos Center for Arts and Worship at the Grand Rapids Christian High School, even a parking lot with her name on it.
She’s poured millions of dollars into the Potter’s House, a K-12 Christian school in Grand Rapids, the Dick and Betsy DeVos Family Foundation she and her husband started, the American Federation for Children, the West Michigan Aviation Academy, and not to be forgotten – the Michigan Republican party.
Her efforts, for the most part, have been localized. She’s funded programs she’s invested in within her own town or state, and in doing so, has shown her support for their mission. And the people liked it. Citizens of Grand Rapids saw a generous family, looking to help out, dedicated to their beliefs. And if you didn’t like, well, you just sent your kid to the public school across town. For DeVos, it was easy to fund one school that does things the way she liked it.
Now multiply that by the 98,817 public schools in the US. Plus 33,619 private schools.
Much of DeVos intended policy for the US focuses on school choice. She wants to up funding for charter and private schools, and then provide vouchers for low-income students so they can choose the school they want to attend. This is her solution to the achievement gap. An investment in individual children, she says.
Growing up in a lower middle class family, where we never went out to eat unless it was a special occasion, didn’t buy new clothes unless we had a legitimate reason, public school was our only option. But even if we had the option of private or charter schools, I don’t think my parents would have taken it. There are more expenses than just tuition – driving to school because there often isn’t a school bus, uniforms, booster clubs. Not to mention an entirely different culture that could easily alienate students from other demographics.
Philanthropy is all well and good, but it seems to be a huge element of DeVos career before she became Educational Secretary. And as Educational Secretary, you can’t just throw (government) money at schools across the country and expect things to immediately improve. I think her narrow scope of exposure and experience is showing, and not in a good way. While funding is a large part of her job, deciding policy, meeting with educators, and being the face of US education are all also parts of the job that fall under the close scrutiny of the whole world. of her Her streak of public faux pas continues – the latest her comparing school choice to ridesharing programs. News outlets and social media users continue to critique and ridicule her for almost everything she says, every appearance she makes.
Perhaps DeVos would have been better off staying rich, not rich and famous.