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Betsy DeVos, Friend or Frenemy?

A mixture of warmth and criticism is what awaited Betsy DeVos after a February 2017 announcement by the Trump administration that rescinded a federal policy that previously allowed transgender students to use the restroom that corresponded with their gender identities. The public reaction may be attributed to what could be considered two-faced behavior by DeVos where she has defended transgender rights while at the same time backed opposing policies by the Trump administration.


Hours before the February 2017 policy change was announced, DeVos met with an employee representative from the Department of Education to discuss the changes that were to come. While an aide assured the representative that DeVos opposed the change, the public wondered why there had been very little public warning that a rift existed between herself and the administration. The move came as a surprise to many, especially those aware of DeVos’s time in the Michigan state government.


Former state attorney general, Republican Mike Cox, had only good things to say about the education secretary.


“She was fierce in state politics,” Cox said. “She instilled fear in a lot of people, and it wasn’t because she’s wealthy. I’ve known her to be determined when it comes to reaching her goals.”


Randi Weingarten, a Democratic supporter and president of the American Federation of Teachers, also backed DeVos.


“People consistently underestimate Betsy DeVos,” Weingarten said. “She is quiet and personable, but she is also dangerous.”


DeVos had little experience in public education when she was confirmed as the U.S. Secretary of Education in January 2017. Critics worried that she lacked experience with the public education system, particularly the federal student loan program.


DeVos, who was born in western Michigan, is the daughter of a billionaire industrialist. She attended private schools in her hometown before attending Calvin College, where she graduated with a degree in business economics. DeVos entered state politics in 1982, just three years after completing college. She married former Amway CEO Dick DeVos, and in 2016, Forbes listed the DeVos family in the top 100 wealthiest families in America.


Betsy and Dick DeVos are known for their charitable contributions in Michigan and to Christian education. Many members of the public praise DeVos for standing by her convictions and personal beliefs while others feel that the family’s immense wealth has separated her from the reality of the public sector.


“I believe she does not want to deal with people who think and feel differently than she does,” one anonymous public educator said. “It seems like whenever someone opposes DeVos that she feels people are just after her money.”


Calvin College student Nolan Wolffis gave DeVos both criticism and praise.


“You can be bad at your job and still be a good person,” Wolffis told the media.


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