Betsy DeVos has been involved in the politics of education ever since she organized students on the campus of Calvin College. She’s worked for the last 30 years to reform the education system and make parents aware of the educational opportunities available to students. DeVos has worked with countless political action committees and party organizations.
Additionally, she served as the Michigan Republican Party head for six years. However, none of these efforts have been more influential than those she spearheaded herself. When it comes to education reform, DeVos will get to work herself if she has to.
The New Orleans Roadblock
The Louisiana Department of Education didn’t want to implement the school voucher program approved in 2008, in spite of the fact that a bipartisan group of legislators created it in concert with Bobby Jindal. It was supposed to help children who couldn’t get out of failing schools in the New Orleans metropolitan area. DeVos couldn’t sit on the sidelines as various organizations connected to the department put up roadblocks to keep the program from succeeding.
When they gave parents a single week to sign up for the program, DeVos took matters into her own hands. She organized a group of concerned voters who did everything they could to get the word out about when parents could sign up for the program. DeVos negotiated with urban radio stations for advertising time and even put out mass mailings.
Eventually, she was able to get various religious and community organizations to get the word out. All the while, DeVos was organizing billboard and Web campaigns. She even oversaw parent conferences designed to get the word out about this important program.
In the end, her efforts worked. Countless parents were able to sign up their children for the voucher program and thus take them out of the vicious cycle they’d been stuck in. She notes that today there are nearly 250,000 students in 33 voucher programs across 17 states as well as Washington DC. This wouldn’t be possible without this kind of grassroots efforts.
Increased Bipartisan Support
While opponents have tried to paint DeVos as someone who plays along party lines, nothing could be further from the truth. She founded the Great Lakes Education Project action committee to promote charter schools in the state of Michigan. Rather than get put down as a partisan shell organization, the committee got so popular that people started to call DeVos and ask her how they could start their own version of it on a national scale.
Democratic leadership is now starting to take the education system to task right alongside DeVos. She noted that legislation in Florida introduced by Republicans ended up with significant support from the Democrat party. Back in Louisiana, many of the same Democratic leaders who supported the voucher bill are dissatisfied with the way others in the state tried to shoot it down and now allying with DeVos. It looks like many legislators both parties will throw their support behind her movement in the coming years.
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