Betsy DeVos, Donald Trump’s nominee for Secretary of Education, says that a late 1990s trip to Israel helped shape her vision for contributing to education reform.
DeVos spoke about the trip at a 2001 conference hosted by a Christian philanthropic group known as The Gathering, said Fred Smith, president of the Texas-based organization.
In an audio recording of a question-and-answer session obtained by Politico, DeVos responded to a question asking “wouldn’t it have been easier to simply fund Christian private schools and be done with it?”
DeVos responded, “There are not enough philanthropic dollars in America to fund what is currently the need in education.”
She then explained that her desire was to “be active where the cultures meet.” She said that her trip to Israel with her husband Dick sparked the vision.
DeVos described traveling with a “marvelous teacher” who taught them about the “Shephelah” — a crescent area between the coastal plains where the Philistines lived and the foothills where the Israelites lived. DeVos said, “He challenged us all on that trip to be active in the Shephelah where the cultures meet” and added “our desire is to be that Shephelah, to confront the culture in which we all live today in ways which will continue to help advance God’s kingdom.”
Dick DeVos spoke about wanting to drive better performance across all of education. He explained “our Christian worldview, which for us comes from a Calvinist tradition, which is to be very much a part of the world and to provide for a greater opportunity, a more expanded opportunity someday for all parents to be able to educate their children in a school that reflects their worldview.”
DeVos is known for her work nationally in the school choice movement. As Politico notes, she and her husband are also known for pouring millions into school choice efforts. Dick DeVos is heir to the marketing company Amway.
Politico reports that DeVos made other comments explaining that she’s not an enemy of public schools but instead is for “good education and for every child having an opportunity for a good education.”
Still, Rob Boston, a spokesman for Americans United for Separation of Church and State, told Politico that he found her comments “alarming” and described DeVos as a “four-star general in a deceptive behind-the-scenes war on public schools and church-state separation.”
DeVos served from 1995-2005 on the board of directors of the Grand Rapids-based Acton Institute, a non-profit research organization that studies free market economics. Rev. Robert Sirico, the co-founder of Acton, told CBN News that DeVos is a “solid evangelical Christian.” He described her as active in her church and “orthodox in her beliefs and personal commitment to Jesus Christ.”
Sirico also described her as cultivating friendships with “a wide diversity of people of different ethnic, political and religious traditions” and said she is “tolerant and open-minded in the best meaning of those terms."