It remains to be seen how Betsy DeVos, President-elect Donald Trump’s choice for education secretary, will influence schools nationally.
But the prominent Michigan Republican and proponent of private school vouchers has already had some influence in Indiana.
As chairwoman of the American Federation for Children, she has overseen political contributions to expand private school vouchers, education tax credits and charter school access in her home state and other parts around the country.
In Indiana, the American Federation for Children PAC has given $1.3 million in donations focused mostly on those efforts. The 501(c)(4) organization describes itself as “a leading national advocacy organization promoting school choice, with a specific focus on advocating for school vouchers and scholarship tax credit programs.”
Instead of giving to individual campaigns in Indiana, DeVos’ group has focused on one Indianapolis-based organization: Hoosiers for Quality Education Political Action Committee, formerly known as Hoosiers for Economic Growth.
Betsy Wiley, Hoosiers for Quality Education PAC president, said the two groups are similar. Both have political arms that support candidates who favor private school vouchers and separate not-for-profit organizations that work to educate the public about school choice.
“They understand that policy making is political in nature,” Wiley said about the amount of financial support DeVos’ group has provided.
Hoosiers for Quality Education PAC received $1.23 million in total from American Federation for Children. According to Indiana’s campaign finance database, those contributions account for a third of Hoosiers For Quality Education’s $3.6 million in expenditures since 2008.
Indiana passed a law in 2011 allowing tax dollars to be used for private school tuition. The state Supreme Court upheld the voucher law in 2013 and lawmakers have expanded its scope since.
Hoosiers for Quality Education PAC has mainly supported Republicans in state races. According to the most recent campaign finance filing, Jennifer McCormick’s successful campaign to oust Democrat Glenda Ritz this year received $130,000 from the PAC. The campaign for Tony Bennett, former Indiana State Superintendent of Public Instruction, received $80,150 between for 2008 and 2012. Eric Holcomb’s successful 2016 campaign for governor received $10,000.
Here’s a breakdown on how American Federation for Children donated $1,297,040.80 in the past six years:
- $1,225,000 to Hoosiers For Quality Education Political Action Committee, formerly known as Hoosiers For Economic Growth
- $61,465 to Bennett for Indiana – campaign committee for Tony Bennett in 2010 and 2012 elections
- $10,000 to Eric Holcomb for Indiana – Holcomb’s successful 2016 campaign for governor
- $475.80 to Carlin Yoder 2008 – Yoder’s successful campaign for Republican State Senator in the 12th district
- $100 to McCormick for State Superintendent – Jennifer McCormick’s successful 2016 campaign for Republican Superintendent
Devos, under her own name, has donated once in Indiana, spending $5,000 toward Holcomb’s campaign for governor in September.
Devos is also head of Alliance for School Choice, a 501(c)(3) organization that advocates for private school vouchers and other school choice options. According to her website, she is currently head of the Windquest Group, a privately held Michigan-based investment and management firm and previously was chairwoman of the Michigan Republican Party.
Wiley is hopeful that as education secretary, DeVos can reduce federal regulations and let individual states have more control over their education policy.