Betsy DeVos seemed to have gotten on the wrong side last February when the Trump administration announced that it was rescinding the Obama-rule on transgender students in public schools. Before the official announcement, she had met with employees in the Department of Education and her aides had assured some that she had not supported the change. Publicly, however, she did not contradict the President’s decision and offered support for it at the Conservative Political Action Conference. The result was a sense that she had lost the behind-the-scenes debate on the issue.
Those who’ve known Betsy DeVos in Michigan, though, don’t discount her influence in the administration going forwards because of her formidable determination to achieve her goals in local and state politics. Instead, they chalk it up to having been caught off guard before she had fully learned the ropes of politics inside government. This had put her at a disadvantage compared to other players in the decision-making process like Attorney General Jeff Sessions.
The other difficulty that Betsy faces is the adversarial relationship she’s had in the past with public education. She and her husband had spent much of their political efforts advocating for charter school and school vouchers, which put them at odds with teachers’ unions and public education professionals at the Federal level.
One of first things Betsy did when she took office as Secretary of Education was to begin building bridges with public education professionals and teachers’ unions. She placed calls and arranged tours to see public schools around the country. This diplomatic work was key to building the alliances she would need to be an effective Secretary and to advocate the issues on her own terms. She also used the school tours as an opportunity to highlight successful charter schools like CARE Elementary School in Miami.
Betsy DeVos is certain to find her footing as Secretary of Education and have an active influence on Trump administration policies. While she lays the groundwork for support inside the Department of Education, she’ll also be building bridges between public education and her own positions on charter schools.
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