Dick Devos, a 61-year-old Michigan native best known for his philanthropic efforts in Grand Rapids, is receiving national and international attention for his efforts toward expanding charter schools and private school access for low-income children. His political ideologies align with the Republican party’s priorities and he and his sister, Betsy Devos, are considered “mega-donors” to the GOP. As a result, some of his philanthropic donations and political contributions have been controversial.
The most notable controversy pertains to his educational donations. Both he and his sister are strong supporters of school vouchers. School vouchers are a system in which low-income families receive tax-payer funded credits and supplements which allow them to afford private school tuition. According to Devos, this system provides families with more educational options. When the state of Michigan voted against amending the state constitution to allow school vouchers, Devos took the idea to other states. The District of Columbia, as well as twenty-four states, have school voucher systems in place.
Other policies backed by Devos include the 2012 policy that reversed union laws and made Michigan a right to work state. When not influencing policy, Devos uses his wealth to fund charitable projects and developments. From a children’s hospital named after his late mother to an aviation-centered charter high school near the Grand Rapids International Airport, Devos has been credited with changing the Grand Rapids’ skyline.
Devos’s first foray into lobbying came in 1991 when he opposed the creation of a multi-purpose sports facility in north Grand Rapids. He told interviewers that Grand Rapids learned its lesson from Detroit. Detroit’s sports stadiums sat empty throughout the 1970s after the Pistons and the Lions left Detroit. He did not want a similar situation to occur in Grand Rapids.
Devos’ roots in Grand Rapids are deep. His father was the co-founder of Amway. Dick Devos was CEO of the company from 1993 until 2002. He and his sister founded the Dick and Betsy Devos Foundation. The foundation has been credited with donating $138.7 million to art and culture organizations, health organizations, scholarship funds, churches and education reform initiatives.
Though his national and international impact is increasing, Dick Devos remains committed to his hometown of Grand Rapids.
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