Dick DeVos is primarily known throughout the country as a Republican politician. He gained this reputation, in part, for his 2006 gubernatorial run in the state of Michigan. Although DeVos narrowly lost that race to the then-incumbent Jennifer Granholm, he proved that someone who runs a completely self-financed campaign on an unorthodox platform can remain a viable candidate in the politics of one of the most populous U.S. states. DeVos has also been associated with Republican causes due to the large amounts of money that he has donated as well as the fact that his wife, Betsy DeVos, is currently the U.S. Secretary of Education under the Trump Administration.
But despite DeVos’ image as a career Republican politician, the truth is that he has only spent an extreme minority of his career on anything having to do with politics. Around his home state of Michigan, DeVos is far better known for his many significant and completely non-partisan activities. Although DeVos has long been one of the most prominent businessmen in West Michigan, operating more than a dozen of the area’s most successful and visible companies, it is in the area of education that he has perhaps contributed more than anywhere else.
DeVos first became aware of the stark challenges facing the U.S. education system when he was still in his 20s. As an active volunteer around his hometown of Grand Rapids, DeVos had the opportunity to tour some of the city’s most neglected schools. This provided an eye-opening realization for DeVos. He saw that some of the city’s children were forced to attend schools that could only be described as substandard in every way. And most of these kids were minorities. Decades after the Brown versus Board of Education decision, DeVos saw that not only was there very little real racial integration at these schools, their facilities were not even remotely equal with those of their better-heeled suburban counterparts.
This provided the impetus behind DeVos’ decades-long obsession with revamping the nation’s school system to reflect more fairly distributed opportunities, especially for the country’s most disadvantaged kids. With projects such as the New Urban Learning School in Detroit, DeVos has proven that the main factor behind the failure of inner-city schools is not the students; it’s the environment.
Many DeVos-backed charter schools have taken kids from some of the most disadvantaged neighborhoods in the country and turned them into superb scholars.
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