On November 23, 2016, President-Elect Donald Trump announced that Betsy DeVos, a billionaire philanthropist and education advocate from Michigan, will be his nominee for Secretary of Education.

The Department of Education’s mission “is to promote student achievement and preparation for global competitiveness by fostering educational excellence and ensuring equal access.”[1] Policies that improve all students’ access to quality educational opportunities have enjoyed bipartisan support in previous administrations. But too many of America’s students are still educated in racially-isolated, and woefully underfunded schools and school districts.[2] To address these concerns, Education Department officials must be prepared to take aggressive actions in consultation with educational experts and advocates that will promote racial and socio-economic diversity in education, reduce school exclusionary discipline practices, and enhance monitoring of school systems through improved civil rights data collection and reporting practices.

To lead the charge in these efforts, any Secretary of Education nominee must have deep education policy expertise and a commitment to the principles of education equity, including eliminating exclusionary school discipline and testing practices. The Secretary must also be well equipped to closely monitor states’ implementation of the Every Student Succeeds Act of 2015, particularly the fair and efficient distribution of Title I funds to high poverty schools and school districts.

Below is a brief preliminary review of Ms. DeVos’ record on issues impacting civil rights and equal educational opportunity. The Legal Defense Fund will continue to review her record carefully concerning these issues.

  • Ms. DeVos supported an amendment to the Michigan constitution that would allow taxpayer money to follow students to nonpublic schools. The DeVos family helped fund the state ballot initiative in 2000, which was rejected by Michigan voters.[3]
  • Ms. DeVos is chairwoman of the American Federation for Children and a board member of the Great Lakes Education Project. Both groups focus on supporting private school vouchers and the expansion of charter schools.[4]
  • In 2001, Ms, DeVos and her husband, Dick DeVos, provided funding for the Center for Individual Rights during its legal battle with the University of Michigan over affirmative action.[5] After the Supreme Court ruled in 2003 to uphold the university’s affirmative action policy, while she acknowledged that the motives underlying the policy were proper, she stated that the policy was still unfair.[6]

For more information, please contact 202-682-1300.


Founded in 1940, the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. (LDF) is the nation’s first civil and human rights law organization and has been completely separate from the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) since 1957—although LDF was originally founded by the NAACP and shares its commitment to equal rights. LDF’s Thurgood Marshall Institute is a multi-disciplinary and collaborative hub within LDF that launches targeted campaigns and undertakes innovative research to shape the civil rights narrative. In media attributions, please refer to us as the NAACP Legal Defense Fund or LDF.