Throughout the United States, many people associate the name Dick DeVos with Republican politics. This is understandable. After having narrowly lost the 2006 gubernatorial race for the state of Michigan, DeVos’ brief but remarkable political career had become widely known to a large percentage of the American public.
Although DeVos was ultimately unsuccessful in his bid for governor, the extreme closeness of the race proved that his ideas and policies had broad popular appeal. After losing by just a couple of percentage points to the widely popular encumbent governor, Jennifer Granholm, DeVos decided that he would no longer engage in politics.
But the race was enough to generate huge amounts of publicity and forever cement his name in the public mind as a major player in the Republican Party. But recently, as part of the process for DeVos’ wife, Betsy DeVos, to be sworn in as the next Secretary of Education, the DeVos family was forced to reveal the entire extent of their charitable contributions over the last 20 years. To the surprise of many, it turned out that the DeVos family hardly engaged in political contributions at all.
Of the more than $150 million that the DeVos family has donated to charity, all money coming out of their own personal wealth, the vast majority of the donations were to charitable causes, particularly those involving the education of inner-city youth. Long a staunch advocate of charter schools, DeVos has done more than perhaps anyone else in the entire country when it comes to creating the types of charter schools that he believes will ultimately prove to be the next step in American education.
For example, DeVos was the founder of both West Michigan Aviation Academy and Detroit Charter School Company New Urban Learning School, two charter schools that have proven the concept and demonstrated beyond any doubt that the public school system in America’s inner cities is not only badly failing, it’s actively harming the most talented and brightest students in those environments.
The West Michigan Aviation Academy itself is a stark refutation of the common wisdom that public schools are the answer to educating America’s inner-city youth and other students coming from troubled or disadvantage environments. Taking almost half of its student body from the most disadvantaged demographics in the West Michigan area, the West Michigan Aviation Academy has proven that these students are capable of performing at the same level or even higher than many of those attending the most privileged school districts. With half of its student body Hispanic and black, the West Michigan Aviation Academy has shown that these students are capable of scoring in the 95th percentile on standardized tests for math, reading and science, an accomplishment virtually unheard of within the public school system itself.
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