In 1989, Dick DeVos and his wife created the Dick and Betsy DeVos Foundation. Among their many initiatives, I’m happy to see that school choice has been a primary goal of their charity work. They continue the work of Dick’s father, also named Dick, and his mother Helen. For two generations now, the DeVos family has sought to allow low-income families the chance to have their children attend private schools throughout Western Michigan. Their work has gone beyond Michigan, however. It’s been good to see that their efforts have helped turn school choice from a “fringe movement” at the turn of the 21st century into a real deal for kids in Michigan. The effects have spilled over to at least a dozen other American states.
Dick and Betsy DeVos’ school choice efforts began in the early 1990’s. They joined the Education Freedom Fund in 1993, using their Foundation to cover the Fund’s administration costs. This Fund provides private scholarships to Michigan low-income families. These scholarships allow the parents to send their children to schools of their choice. They also matched a $7.5 million grant to the Fund from another group. Also, in 2000, DeVos was on a committee sponsoring a ballot initiative to amend the Michigan constitution. This amendment would have allowed for school vouchers and even tax credits to cover the tuition for private education. Unfortunately, the initiative lost with almost 70 percent voting against it.
Religious-based schools have become a large part of the philanthropic efforts regarding school choice. The family’s passion for religious schools has been the major fuel for their decision to support choice in schools. Regarding education, their foundation states “We strive to be a catalyst for positive change by expanding choices and improving access opportunities in education.” The foundation funds many Christian schools in Michigan and also has supported American Education Reform Council, Choices for Children, and Children First America.
Also, sports programs in schools play a major role. The DeVos family has long been visible in the sports arena, making contributions to several sports programs, including those in schools. Dick DeVoswas even CEO of the NBA team, Orlando Magic from 1991-1993 before he left to found and run the Windquest Group. In line with sports, programs in the arts have a strong connection to the DeVos family as well. Several arts programs within schools and outside of them have been funded by the family. I’m glad to see this, as many of these families may not have otherwise been able to participate in such activities. This is one of many reasons why putting money into the schools (and choice thereof) are a big focus for Dick DeVos and family.