Betsy DeVos Charter Schools Disruption Education Industry Michigan Vouchers

Betsy DeVos Promotes Vouchers in Michigan

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Betsy DeVos is not going away. She is leading a campaign for vouchers in Michigan that is certain to defund public schools. DeVos and her husband Richard DeVos sponsored a voucher referendum in 2000, which voters overwhelmingly rejected by 69-31.

Twenty-two years later, she is promoting a plan that would bypass the Governor and the public. Under Michigan law, the Governor can’t veto it, and the public can’t repeal it. No state referendum has ever gone well for voucher advocates. To avoid Governor Whitmer’s veto and a public referendum, Republicans have designed a plan to bypass both.

Former U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, an avid and longtime proponent of school choice, headlined a virtual kick-off Wednesday for a GOP-supported ballot measure opponents argue would suck funds out of public schools.

“I trust parents and I believe in students. Unfortunately, that doesn’t seem to be a shared value in Lansing,” DeVos told parents and supporters during the “Let MI Kids Learn” Facebook livestream Wednesday morning.

“I’ve been told what many of you have been told over the years: ‘Sit down, go away. This isn’t your role. You’re not the expert, we’re the experts. Leave it to us,’” said DeVos, a former Michigan GOP chair who ran the U.S. Education Department under former President Donald Trump. “Well, I happen to believe that the best expert for a child is that child’s family. … It’s why I believe that we have to change the power structure in education and give students and families more control.”

DeVos joined a panel of pro-school choice parents during the virtual event to launch the Let MI Kids Learn initiative. The ballot initiative was unveiled by Republicans in November to create a school voucher-style system that would use public tax dollars to fund private education.

Opponents argue the plan violates the Michigan Constitution. In 1970, voters passed the Blaine Amendment, which prohibits public money from going to private schools. And opponents to these bills say they violate that constitutional amendment.

The DeVos family already had given the measure $350,000, plus $25,000 from the DeVos-backed Great Lakes Education Project, the Detroit News reports. Other big donors include Get Families Back to Work, which has the same address as the Republican Governors Association, and gave $800,000. The State Government Leadership Fund, an offshoot of the Republican State Leadership Committee, also contributed $475,000.

The initiative came after Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer vetoed voucher-style education bills earlier that month that would have given tax credits to Michiganders who contributed to a scholarship program for non-public schools.

But now, since the Let MI Kids Learn ballot drive has been approved by the state Board of Canvassers, supporters — including the powerful right-wing DeVos family — can begin drumming up support and collecting signatures.

If the group successfully collects 340,000 signatures, the GOP-controlled Legislature will be able to vote the petition into law instead of voters deciding in November. Whitmer’s signature is not needed for this to happen, nor can the Democratic governor veto the measure.

“I’m more fired up now than ever. … It’s hard to believe anyone would oppose this opportunity,” DeVos said Wednesday.

Democrats and groups like AFT Michigan — a union which represents 35,000 educators and healthcare providers in schools across the state — oppose the measure and others like it, arguing they redirect public dollars from already-struggling public schools to fund tuition for private educations.

The Michigan Parent Alliance for Safe Schools (MiPASS) also opposes the initiative. Members released a statement Wednesday blasting DeVos for “exploiting the pandemic to push her charter school agenda.”

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