President-elect Donald Trump tapped one of the nation's top charter school advocates, Republican philanthropist Betsy DeVos, to lead the Department of Education on Wednesday.
DeVos is the chairman of the American Federation for Children, the nation's largest school choice advocacy group. The federation has worked at the state and local level to advance the expansion of charter schools and other education reforms. She and her husband, entrepreneur Dick DeVos, created the West Michigan Aviation Academy, a charter high school in Grand Rapids, in 2011.
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Nearly 40 percent of the academy's student body is economically disadvantaged and more than one in three students are minorities. It has reached parity with other district schools and was one of just 93 Michigan schools to earn a Silver Medal from the US News & World Report‘s high school rankings. US News & World Report ranked the school among the top 70 schools in the state, which had about 900 public and charter schools in the 2015-2016 school year, and named it one of the 1,800 best schools in the country.
DeVos' selection to lead the Department of Education won plaudits from Michigan public policy experts. Ben DeGrow, director of education policy at the free market Mackinac Center for Public Policy, praised DeVos' record of school reform.
"Betsy DeVos has been a long-time champion of parental choice and educational opportunity, both here in Michigan and around the nation," DeGrow told the Washington Free Beacon. "It will be exciting to see how her appointment gives her a bigger platform to further advance this important cause."
The department has a $68 billion budget and employs more than 4,000 people, overseeing the education policy of about 100,000 schools across the country. President-elect Trump reportedly reached out to a number of top education reformers and charter school advocates to lead the department, including charter school entrepreneur and former Washington D.C. Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee. Rhee said that she was not "pursuing" a role in the administration on Tuesday.
In addition to her background as an education reformer, DeVos led the Michigan Republican Party for more than a decade and has been actively involved in conservative politics since volunteering for Gerald Ford's election campaign in 1976. Her brother is former Navy SEAL and Blackwater founder Erik Prince.