[Guest post by Jonathan Small]
In a late 2020 interview with Rick Hess of the American Enterprise Institute, conducted as Betsy DeVos was nearing the end of her tenure as federal Secretary of Education for President Trump, Hess asked DeVos for an anecdote that captured the experience.
DeVos responded, “I remember talking with a group of young African American students in a school where they were benefiting from the Milwaukee voucher program and looking outside at a sea of middle-aged white protestors who apparently thought those students didn’t deserve that opportunity. I think that’s a pretty good microcosm of what my experience in office was like.”
Unlike her detractors, DeVos never forgot to place students first in policy debates. That’s why the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs chose DeVos as this year’s recipient of our organization’s Citizenship Award.
That award is provided to those who make great contributions to our state and nation. It’s hard to imagine anyone more deserving than DeVos. Thanks to her leadership and hard work—which long preceded her time in Washington—the lives of countless children have been changed for the better through school choice and the conversation on education today is increasingly child-focused.
To her credit, DeVos stayed in the thick of the battle when others would have retreated to the sidelines. Her detractors were both unreasonable and relentless and remain so. Nonetheless, DeVos gave her all to help children whose opportunities in life will be severely limited without a quality education.
DeVos has devoted decades to that effort. She has been active in politics for more than 35 years with education a major focus for the last 28 years.
DeVos served as chair of the American Federation for Children, an organization that seeks to increase school-choice options nationwide, including everything from homeschooling to public charter schools to state-funded scholarships for private school.
When Trump asked her to be his secretary of education, she did not flinch. At the time, DeVos declared, “The status quo is not acceptable. I am committed to transforming our education system into the best in the world.”
DeVos was an innovator, a disruptor, and an advocate before she went to Washington. And she did not change her stripes after joining the Trump administration.
Among other things, DeVos championed Education Freedom Scholarships, a proposal to provide $5 billion in federal tax credits for individual and business contributions to state non-profit Scholarship Granting Organizations (SGOs).
Few people have done more to increase educational opportunities for children of all backgrounds. And fewer still have made such contributions while under unrelenting attack.
DeVos showed that one person with backbone can make a difference. When one finds a true public servant like DeVos, we should not only praise her, but join her in the fight.