In 1991, a plan was made public in Grand Rapids, Michigan. The plan was to build a sports arena in the northern part of the city. Dick DeVos, Education Minister Betsy DeVos’ husband, quickly decided to lobby against the plan. He was about to become the Chief Executive Officer of his parents’ marketing company, The Amway Corporation. Mr. DeVos’ reasons for not wanting the construction of the sports and convention arena, was the fear that the massive building would ruin the downtown area. DeVos’ fight was the initiative to form the group Grand Action, with other business leaders. The work of this group changed the Grand Rapids’ skyline, through the construction of important buildings like the Michigan State University Medical School, the Van Andel Arena, DeVos Place Convention Center and the Grand Rapids City Market,
The married couple has been known for at least three decades as very active political figures, but also as powerful business personas. Their time and money are centered around what apparently is their main interest: education. The two married heirs of billionaire companies are mega-donors to the Republican Party, and their donations are not surprisingly linked to education policies and law reform. But, it is not only in education where their charitable side is shown. Their political activism and interest stretches over several important aspects of society. Between 1989 and 2015, their own foundation, the Dick And Betsy DeVos Family Foundation donated 138,7 million dollars to programs of leadership, human services, art, culture, churches and health initiatives.
Perhaps the most unusual and original contribution to society and the educational system was a charter school Mr. DeVos funded and opened in Detroit. It a charter school with a focus on a very particular industry and sector: aviation. With 80 enrolled students, the charter school opened in 2010, and by 2017, 600 students from seven counties attend the school. They don’t pay tuition, and the school is funded by federal tax funds. The school’s location is in a rundown office space at Gerald R. Ford International Airport. West Michigan Aviation Academy is probably one of the most peculiar schools in the state, if not in the entire country.
While DeVos was funding his new school, his home state Michigan was struggling financially to bail out the entire Detroit school system. The state Senate seemed to be in unison favor of a bill that would create a commission that would have the power to decide closing failing schools, both public and charter schools, and taking decisions regarding new permits. DeVos action group Great Lakes Education Project managed to stop the bill. Charter schools versus public schools were largely the subject of the minister’s Senate hearing, before taking office almost two years ago.
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