Category: Education

Dick DeVos and his wife do good things for Grand Rapids and for education

Grand Rapids is fortunate to have the support of Dick Devos and his wife Betsy DeVos, both heirs to family fortunes and movers and shakers in their own right. In 1991, they campaigned against plans to build a multi-purpose sports and convention arena outside of the downtown area. They feared it would gut the town.


But they didn’t stop there. They didn’t simply say “no” to these plans.


Instead, they formed the group business leaders known as Grand Action. This became the driving force behind a number of important additions to the Grand Rapids skyline. This includes the DeVos Performance Hall, the DeVos Place Convention Center, the Grand Rapids City Market, Michigan State University’s medical school and Van Andel Arena.


Creating so much of value in the downtown area was part of a plan to try to curb the trend towards suburban sprawl. Betsy DeVos also fostered the development of local charter schools, one of which is an aviation themed high school located at the Grand Rapids International Airport.


Why an aviation high school? In part because Dick DeVos is a licensed pilot. He was recently added to the FAA Management Advisory Council.


Education reform is a big theme of the work they do. They particularly would like to see children from poor families have the same educational opportunities their own children have had. This is the impetus behind funding private school scholarships.


The road has not always been smooth. One bump occurred in 2000 when they tried to get a constitutional amendment to fund vouchers that would allow students to attend private schools on the public dime. This was rejected by voters. Another occurred in 2006 when Dick DeVos ran for governor and lost.


Instead of quitting, they tried new strategies for spreading this paradigm. The result is that twenty-four states plus Washington D.C. now have private school vouchers in some form.


Betsy DeVos has campaigned passionately to provide poor families with school choice options. Her advocacy is part of why she was appointed as the U.S. Secretary of Education.


Over the years, the Dick & Betsy DeVos Family Foundation has given away $138.7 million. It supports many different things, including scholarships to attend private schools. The couple is also known for their political activism. Dick DeVos served as the patron of a 2012 law that helped make Michigan and right-to-work state, removing the requirement to join a union.


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