Donald Trump looks on as Betsy DeVos addresses the crowd in Michigan. (DON EMMERT/AFP/Getty Images)
Betsy DeVos, the nominee for Education Secretary, said “it’s time to make education great again” as part of President-Elect Donald Trump’s “thank you tour” at a rally Friday night near her hometown of Grand Rapids, Michigan.
“She’s going to do an incredible job,” said Trump, before a full house at the DeltaPlex Arena. He said he expected her to “make great strides” in reforming the education sector. “It will be a beautiful thing.”
It was a return to the neighborhood of Trump’s final rally of the campaign, which stretched past midnight into Election Day. It had been a last-minute decision to go to Michigan and the state rewarded him with its 16 electoral votes after a narrow victory of just under 11,000 votes against Hillary Clinton, his Democratic rival.
DeVos, 58, is married to Dick DeVos, who is the son of one of the billionaire founders of Amway. They have four children. She also comes from a wealthy family in western Michigan. Through her philanthropic and political work she has been advocating for school choice for more than 25 years.
DeVos chairs the pro-school-choice group American Federation for Children and is a member of the board of the Great Lakes Education Project.
She said she is “excited and humbled” to be named by Trump to head the Department of Education. Since her selection on Nov. 23, she hasn’t given any interviews. Initial reports at MLive.com were that she wouldn’t attend the rally because she was busy preparing for her Senate confirmation hearing next month. In the end, she did appear and got a rousing welcome.
“Just between us,” she said to screams from the crowd, “it’s time to make education great again in this country.”
She explained that it meant “expanding choices and options” despite the circumstances of children and their families or their ZIP codes. “This means putting kids first every single day,” she added.
After DeVos’ nomination, the teachers’ unions, which endorsed Clinton, went on the attack against her support of school choice initiatives, particularly vouchers that allow students to use tax money to attend religious schools. Lily Eskelsen García, the president of the National Education Association, said Trump was “out of touch” with what works and Devos’ “efforts over the years have done more to undermine public education than support students.”
DeVos doesn’t seemed swayed by the push-back from the unions. “For me it’s simple: I trust parents,” she said. “Our kids, your kids will have someone fighting for them every single day.”
At the rally, she said she would advocate for moving education decisions out of Washington and into the states in order “to put an end to federalized Common Core.” Much reviled in many sectors, the Common Core is a set of standards for curriculum in elementary and high schools. Common Core has its fans, but it has come to be a rallying point for many who see it as a catch-all for that’s wrong in math and reading instruction today.
As DeVos spoke, cheering broke out as several demonstrators were hauled out of the arena. It didn’t deter her.
“All I ask is an open mind and the opportunity to share my heart,” she said. “Together let’s make education great again and let’s win for kids.”
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