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Betsy DeVos, Trump's education secretary pick, has been major donor in Indiana school voucher push

Posted at 3:30 PM, Nov 23, 2016

INDIANAPOLIS -- The Michigan billionaire and conservative activist who could be the next secretary of education has been a major funder of the school voucher movement in Indiana.

President-elect Donald Trump announced Wednesday that he will nominate Betsy DeVos as his secretary of education.

“Betsy DeVos is a brilliant and passionate education advocate,” Trump said in a written statement. “Under her leadership we will reform the U.S. education system and break the bureaucracy that is holding our children back so that we can deliver world-class education and school choice to all families. I am pleased to nominate Betsy as secretary of the Department of Education."

DeVos, a four-time Michigan GOP chairman who has never held a job in the education field, has been a vocal advocate for expanding charter schools and school vouchers across the country, particularly through the American Federation for Children, which she serves as the chairman of and which is funded primarily by her family's fortune.

DeVos' father is Edgar Prince, founder of the automotive parts supplier Prince Corporation, and her husband is Richard DeVos Jr., son of Amway co-founder Richard DeVos. Betsy DeVos' brother, Erik Prince, was also the founder of the private security firm Blackwater USA.

The DeVos family has pumped millions of dollars into the American Federation for Children (AFC) over the past several years, with much of it finding its way to Indiana – a state that has been one of the leading battlegrounds in the school reform movement.

The AFC donated more than $60,000 to former Indiana superintendent of public instruction Tony Bennett – a leading advocate of expanding charter schools and voucher programs – for his 2012 reelection campaign. Multiple members of the DeVos family also individually donated a total of $15,000 to Bennett's campaign, and another $10,000 to Gov. Mike Pence.

Governor-elect Eric Holcomb was also a major recipient of DeVos donations, receiving a total of $85,000 from the family this year and another $10,000 from AFC.

But the primary recipient of AFC's political contributions has been Hoosiers for Quality Education – founded in 2008 by Indiana millionaire Fred Klipsch as Hoosiers for Economic Growth – a political action committee that has funneled hundreds of thousands of dollars into pro-reform candidates over the past several elections.

Since 2010, Hoosiers for Quality Education – which is the political arm of the Institute for Quality Education – has received $1.2 million from the American Federation for Children Action Fund. They also received a $200,000 contribution from Gov. Pence's war chest in August after he was named Trump's running mate.

How has Hoosiers for Quality Education used that money? In 2016, like this:

  • $120,000 this year to Republican superintendent of public instruction candidate Jennifer McCormick's campaign
  • $80,000 to the House Republican Campaign Committee
  • $45,000 to the Senate Majority Campaign Committee
  • $53,000 to Republican state senate candidate John Ruckelshaus' campaign
  • $30,000 to Republican state senate candidate Aaron Freeman's campaign
  • $30,000 to Republican State Sen. Ed Soliday's campaign
  • $10,000 to Lt. Gov. Eric Holcomb's campaign

Hoosiers for Quality Education was also a major Tony Bennett supporter, donating at least $55,000 to his reelection campaign.

DeVos released a statement Wednesday promising "transformational change" to America's educational system.

“I am honored to accept this responsibility to work with the President-elect on his vision to make American education great again,” DeVos said. “The status quo in education is not acceptable. Together, we can work to make transformational change that ensures every student in America has the opportunity to fulfill his or her highest potential.”