Parent and philanthropist Betsy DeVos has made school choice a fundamental part of the agenda she’s promoted as U.S. Secretary of Education. Although she is a conservative Christian herself, her interest in charter schools and other educational institutions tailored to meet the specific needs of parents, students and community they serve is not restricted to religious academies. In 2017, she stood shoulder to shoulder with Armando Christian Pérez—who may be better known by his name de rap Pitbull—to show support for the charter school that Pérez has opened in Miami.
Charter Schools and Florida
Florida is one of the most supportive states in the nation when it comes to school choice. Since 2000, The Sunshine State has allocated more than $760 million of its educational budget to charter schools. Approximately $179 million of this amount has gone to charter schools in beleaguered Miami-Dade County. Schools use these funds for a number of different purposes, including construction, rent payments, school buses and the cost of property insurance. Florida also sponsors an innovative tax-credit scholarship program that supports parents in their quest for educational choice.
Pitbull’s Miami charter is called SLAM, which is an acronym for its emphasis: sports leadership and management. Pitbull started the school in 2013, and the tuition-free school currently serves students in grades 6 through 12. Pitbull has subsequently gone on to establish a number of charter schools in conjunction with the nonprofit Mater Academy.
Betsy DeVos’s Florida Roots
Betsy DeVos has strong ties to Florida. She and her husband, businessman Dick DeVos, own a home in the Sunshine State, and the DeVos family owns the Orlando Magic basketball team. In the talks she gives around the nation, Mrs. DeVos has frequently singled out Florida as a national model for charter schools, school voucher programs and other forms of school choice.
Betsy and Dick DeVos’s 501(c)(4) organization, the American Federation for Children, has been an important ally for progressive Florida parents and politicians who are interested in school choice. The American Federation for Children has seen success in other states, too, particularly in Louisiana and Indiana.
Betsy DeVos does not see educational choice as a partisan issue. While it’s true that educational choice initiatives have been primarily linked to the Republican party in the past, Mrs. DeVos points with pride at the fact that Democrats are increasingly finding value in them. As Mrs. DeVos sees it, the new-found freedom that parents enjoy to send their children to schools that reflect parents’ own values is the result of a grassroots effort.
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