Betsy Devos: the new Education Secretary

Betsy DeVos’s advocacy of educational choice may be inspired in part by her family’s roots in Holland, Michigan. Holland is the town where Betsy DeVos grew up. It’s a picturesque town on the Lower Peninsula that’s close to the shores of Lake Michigan and that delights in its Dutch heritage. While Holland was not founded by Dutch immigrants, it became a popular place for settlers from the Netherlands after Albertus C. VanRaalte and a group of followers purchased land there in 1847. Today, Holland proudly celebrates its distinctive past with an annual Tulip Festival and a Dutch-inspired Winterfest.


Educational Choice and the Netherlands


In the late 19th century, the Netherlands was the scene of a tremendous debate over public education. Many politicians argued forcibly that public education should be an entirely secular venue. These politicians maintained that schools administered by Catholic and Reform Protestant organizations should not be given access to public funding. The debate was eventually resolved when Dutch officials opted to make funds available to religious schools so long as those schools maintained inclusive admissions policies. This debate in the Netherlands was one of the earliest examples of a debate over educational choice.


What Is Educational Choice?


Educational choice is a nationwide movement that believes that parents should have the right to select the school their children attend. Long before she became the United States Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos was an outspoken proponent of educational choice. While Mrs. DeVos herself is an observant Christian, she does not favor Christian schools over other types of schools when it comes to her advocacy on behalf of educational choice. She just wants to make sure that the parents of children have access to many types of options in addition to conventional public education venues.


The Potter’s House


As private citizens, Betsy DeVos and her husband Dick have contributed money and volunteer hours to the Potter’s House, which is a Christian school serving kindergarten through the 12th grade in Grand Rapids, Michigan where the DeVos family lives. Mr. and Mrs. DeVos have donated the funds that provide modern classrooms and Chromebooks for the school’s 200 or so high school students. Betsy DeVos has devoted a considerable amount of time and energy to cobbling together a network of community organizations and private donors who help make educational choice a reality for low-income families in Grand Rapids who might not otherwise have access to it.


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