DeVos dollars back school choice

Analysis

The story is looks at what candidate DeVos has said recently about education, where he says he wouldn’t push a voucher system, and then provides the public with a substantial amount of information on what DeVos has supported with his money. The article provides some dollar amounts on organizations and campaigns he has funded such as the failed Kids First, Yes campaign and groups like All Children Matter. There is even a second story that provides excerpts from a 2002 speech DeVos gave to the Heritage Foundation, with a link for the entire speech. Press reporter did a good job of looking at what the candidate DeVos has recently said and compared that to what he has done as a citizen over the years, thus providing readers with some critical data to make an informed decision.

The article does mention that DeVos has been a major donor to the group All Children Matter, but it doesn’t mention that his wife Betsy is the director. The article also doesn’t provide any details on how this group “supports lawmakers and organizations sympathetic to its cause,” much of which is through major financial support according to their own website. The story cites Clint Bolick, with the Phoenix-based group Alliance for School Choice, who makes positive comments about All Children Matter, but fails to mention that Betsy DeVos sits on their board of directors. Lastly, the article does mention that Granholm is opposed to any kind of a voucher policy, but the reporter fails to explore the Governor’s track record on education over the past 3 and a half years.

Article Text

Dick DeVos isn’t afraid to pour money into a cause he passionately supports. His multimillion-dollar television advertising campaign for governor is proof of that.

But nowhere has the DeVos mix of ideological commitment and megafunding been more apparent than in his challenge to traditional public schools.

Since 1999, DeVos, his wife, Betsy, and their immediate family have poured at least $7 million into expanding school choice — vouchers, tuition tax credits and charter schools — and promoting candidates who back those causes.

Their support goes beyond their sizable checkbooks. Dick and Betsy DeVos have been the public face of the voucher movement in Michigan and, in many ways, nationally. The couple chaired the failed 2000 voucher initiative. From 2003 to 2005, Dick DeVos chaired a Grand Rapids-based organization he started, called All Children Matter, that has funded campaigns across the country to challenge the education establishment.

As Republican DeVos seeks to unseat Democratic Gov. Jennifer Granholm, DeVos’ funding pattern and national advocacy define a bright philosophical line between the candidates.

Granholm defends traditional schools and is backed by the powerful Michigan Education Association. DeVos has challenged public schools, suggested merit pay for teachers and, until now, been as staunch a voucher champion as the state has seen.

Would he push vouchers from the governor’s office?

“No,” DeVos said. “The Constitution of Michigan is what it is. The people of Michigan spoke clearly on their concern about the voucher proposal we put forward. I have set that aside.”

Instead, DeVos said, the state should monitor what’s going on elsewhere and learn from other states.

“I think eventually there are going to be innovations that we’re going to see elsewhere in the country and we will learn from, and I believe those may change the entire debate about vouchers,” DeVos said.

For now, he’ll pursue other educational changes, including a greater number of charter schools — there are waiting lists across the state — and innovations within districts.

Granholm opposes vouchers and tax credits — using public money for private and religious schools — and has not championed charter schools.

The governor “really does believe firmly that we should let public dollars support public schools,” said Chuck Wilbur, her senior education adviser.

As for charter schools, “she feels our emphasis right now should be on getting all the charter schools we have to meet the goals they need to meet for children,” Wilbur said. “That’s a tall order right now.”

Financial backing

DeVos’ donations, and those from his family, have supported not only charters, but every form of “educational choice.”

The $7 million went to three groups: Kids First! Yes!, the organization that supported vouchers; the Great Lakes Education Project (GLEP), which challenged Republican candidates viewed as not supportive enough of charter schools; and All Children Matter, which supports voucher and tax-credit candidates across the country.

The single largest contributions from Dick and Betsy DeVos have gone to All Children Matter. The couple poured $375,000 into the group.

Dick and Betsy DeVos gave $1.1 million to the three groups between 1999 and 2005.

They have, undoubtedly, made other donations to school choice advocacy groups not tallied in this count, done by the nonpartisan Michigan Campaign Finance Network.

Besides these political donations, the DeVoses have used their private foundation to support Christian schools, tutoring groups and other pro-voucher outfits.

They doled out $978,000 to the Education Freedom Fund, which distributes scholarships to low-income students to attend private schools. The fund was the largest single recipient of donations from the DeVos foundation between 2002 and 2004.

Other foundation gifts from the same time period point to a persistent passion for nonpublic education: $807,000 to The Potter’s House Christian School in Grand Rapids/Wyoming; $390,000 to Choices for Children, another school reform group funded heavily by the DeVoses; and $101,000 to the American Education Reform Council in Milwaukee.

The donations, particularly to political groups, shows a DeVos governorship would be committed to vouchers, charged Granholm campaign spokesman Chris DeWitt.

“Clearly what DeVos is doing shows that he still supports vouchers,” DeWitt said. “This is a classic case of actions speak louder than words. In this case, his money speaks louder than words.”

‘Among a handful of giants’

All Children Matter is the most recent example of DeVos’ pro-voucher activities. The group is funded not only by the DeVoses, but even more significantly by Wal-Mart heir John Walton, who died in a plane crash last year. Walton gave All Children Matter $3.2 million. His younger brother, Jim Walton, gave more than $3 million.

The organization fits within a strategy DeVos laid out in a speech four years ago to the conservative Heritage Foundation. In the speech, DeVos argued for a state-by-state fight for vouchers and other challenges to traditional public schools.

Housed in offices nestled between the DeVos Convention Center and the Amway Grand Plaza Hotel, All Children Matter has made itself a national political force by supporting lawmakers and organizations sympathetic to it cause.

The group is a model for other school choice advocacy groups, said Clint Bolick, president of the Phoenix-based Alliance for School Choice, a national group trying to change education through vouchers and tax credits.

Bolick called the DeVoses “among a handful of giants in the education-reform movement.”

“Their biggest contribution nationally has been the creation of All Children Matter, which really plugged a huge hole in the school choice movement by creating a political arm,” Bolick said. “They have almost single-handedly made the school choice movement a significant factor in state legislative races around the country.”

For DeVos, providing educational options for kids “is a matter of justice when we see many schools — and too often they are schools that serve minority populations, low-income populations — turning out the worst academic results,” he said. “That’s just simply wrong.”

DeVos touted vouchers in 2002 Heritage speech

Sunday, July 09, 2006

As a candidate for governor, Dick DeVos has carefully calibrated his comments on education, skirting the incendiary issue of vouchers.

But the Republican businessman spoke with more candor — and what opponents say is contradiction — in a Dec. 3, 2002, speech before the conservative Heritage Foundation in Washington, D.C.

“Michigan may well move to the back of the education reform train, which, as a native of Michigan, I’m saddened to say,” DeVos told the crowd, two years after vouchers went down decisively in Michigan, in a campaign chaired by DeVos and his wife, Betsy.

“But when the time comes, we will bring the fight back to Michigan again and do everything we can there.”

That statement directly contradicts DeVos’ statements as a gubernatorial contender. DeVos promises vouchers will not be part of his agenda as governor because Michigan citizens spoke clearly, rejecting the voucher initiative 70 percent to 30 percent.

But DeVos said he does believe Michigan can watch what is happening in other states and learn.

The voucher debate in Michigan occurred at a time when there were few examples of that kind of education funding elsewhere, DeVos said in an interview last week. Now, there is a growing track record.

As for the timing of a renewed voucher debate, he said, “I don’t know when that will be.”

The Granholm campaign said the speech is proof DeVos has not abandoned his advocacy of vouchers, no matter what he has said as a candidate. “He is not being specific in his plan for Michigan because he doesn’t want people to know he’s looking at still pushing vouchers in our state,” Granholm campaign spokesman Chris DeWitt said.

In the 2002 Heritage speech, DeVos called the discrepancy in education between wealthy people like himself and others “a tremendous injustice.”

The speech was in part a tactical analysis in which DeVos defined a state-by-state strategy for advancing vouchers. In addition, he urged the audience to construct local organizations that could offer “political consequences for opposition and political reward for support of education reform.” He held up as a model the Great Lakes Education Project, formed by DeVos and his wife, Betsy, following the voucher defeat. GLEP challenged Republicans who were viewed as soft on charter schools.

DeVos also urged a stealth strategy on education reform in the Heritage speech.

“We need to be cautious about talking too much about these activities, and the political work that needs to go on will go on at the grassroots, it will go on quietly and it will go on in the form that politics is done, one person at a time speaking to another person in privacy,” DeVos said at the time.

Near the close of the speech, during a question-and-answer session, DeVos cautioned his audience against abandoning vouchers in favor of tuition tax credits, which allow reimbursement for private-school tuition.

“I think tax credits would have been clobbered equally or worse within the context of Michigan, due to the dynamics of the situation,” DeVos said. “So I am not at all chastened by my support for vouchers by the outcome of that election.”

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Author: mediamouse

Grand Rapids independent media // mediamouse.org