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OpEdNews Op Eds    H2'ed 11/29/16

Meet Trump's Secretary of Education: Betsy the Billionaire

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By the time Betsy's father Edgar Prince died in the mid-90s, he had an auto parts supply company worth a billion dollars thanks in part to the now ubiquitous lighted sun visor which he patented.1 When, in 1988, a new "conservative evangelical organization" called the Family Research Council needed funds to advance its agenda of "banning gay marriage, promoting school vouchers for Christian schools, and outlawing abortion and stem-cell research" co-founder Gary Bauer turned to Betsy's father. Bauer said of Edgar Prince, "[He]was not an empire builder. He was a Kingdom builder " For him, personal success took a back seat to spreading the Gospel and fighting for the moral restoration of our society." 2

Betsy's brother is the infamous evangelical Erik Prince, founder of the private, for hire mercenary army Blackwater used by the U.S. government in Iraq and Afghanistan. While Blackwater became known for its indiscriminate killing of civilians, Erik himself came under investigation in 2009 for "Murder[ing] or facilitate[ing] the murder of individuals cooperating with federal authorities investigating the company." One former employee described the younger Prince as "a Christian crusader tasked with eliminating Muslims and the Islamic faith from the globe." 3

In 1981 Betsy Prince married into the DeVos family, owner of the Amway Corporation, a union that would make her one of the richest women in the world. Laurie Bennett of Forbes Magazine writes, "Other than possibly the Koch brothers, few billionaires have a more established place in conservative America than the DeVos clan.4 In 1994 Amway "gave the biggest corporate contribution ever recorded to a political party for a single election: $2.5 million to the GOP," which helped bring "Newt Gingrich and a radical right-wing agenda known as the Contract with America to power in Congress." 5,6 Former Amway distributor Karen Jones said of the corporation, "They tell you to always vote conservative no matter what. They say liberals support the homosexuals and let women get out of their place"They say we need to get things back to the way it's supposed to be." 7

In 1998 Betsy and her husband Dick launched the DeVos Family Foundation, a philanthropic organization motivated by "faith" that works to expand school choice. 8 According to Source Watch, a "national watchdog group that conducts in-depth investigations into corruption and the undue influence of corporations on media and democracy," the foundation's American Federation for Children "is a conservative 501(c)(4) dark money group that promotes the school privatization agenda via the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and other avenues." 9,10

DeVos puts it this way:

Successful advocacy requires coordinating a lot of moving parts: identifying potential legislators, educating them about the issue, getting them elected, helping them craft and pass legislation, and then, once the laws are passed, helping them with implementing the programs to ensure they work for children ... So a few years ago, we reorganized a number of the key players. We formed the American Federation for Children as a 501(c)(4). It is the umbrella organization that is affiliated with the Alliance for School Choice--still a (c)(3)--and AFC's political action committee, the American Federation for Children Action Fund. Now that our efforts are better organized, it's been working really, really well.11

In a 1997 Op-ed for the Capital Hill newspaper Roll Call, DeVos wrote:

[M]y family is the largest single contributor of soft money to the national Republican party"I have decided, however, to stop taking offense at the suggestion that we are buying influence. Now, I simply concede the point. We expect to foster a conservative governing philosophy consisting of limited government and respect for traditional American virtues. We expect a return on our investment; we expect a good and honest government. Furthermore, we expect the Republican party to use the money to promote these policies, and yes, to win elections." 12

Education scholar Diane Ravitch writes that DeVos is "a 'reformer' who does not hide her contempt for public schools " She wants privatization, period." 13

The destruction of public education all but guarantees a cast system for our children, but for billionaires of DeVos' ilk, as long as these future untouchables are not gay and come to Jesus, America will be great again.

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Michael Galli is the Dean of Students at Rivendell Academy, a small 7-12 interstate public school on the New Hampshire / Vermont border, where he teaches classes on media and U.S. foreign policy.

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