Dick DeVos and his wife Betsy, who is the present United States Secretary of Education, share a long history of using the abundance of resources that have been bestowed upon them to support various causes in Western Michigan. One fight, in particular, the couple has shown a keen interest in is the movement to allow for parents to have more say in the schools that their children attend.
The DeVos’ are the founders of the Great Lakes Education Project, an organization that advocates for school choice and has their own political action committee. The Education project, along with other allies of the DeVos’, took part in a bailout that enabled the school district in Detroit to avoid the creation of a commission that would control the decision-making pertaining to new openings of public schools. This proposal was shot down by the Republican-dominated Legislature.
Perhaps the most direct contribution Dick DeVos has made to the school choice movement is the founding of the West Michigan Aviation Academy. The Academy is a not for profit charter school started in 2010 with only 80 students and used office space provided by the Gerald R. Ford International Airport. The school, which focuses on careers in education has grown to the point where it occupies its own building to educate 600 students from seven counties in the state.
There are children attending The Academy that ride multiple city buses daily to get to and from school and one student even lives with family friends during the week and visits his family, which lives 150 miles away from the West Michigan Aviation Academy, on weekends.
Children attending the school do so tuition-free and the Academy is funded by a $7500 allowance paid by the state of Michigan for each student. Since 2014, Dick and Betsy DeVos have donated $7 million of their own money to the school. This financial support includes a $3 million loan with no interest charged to fund a building expansion and they purchase new equipment.
The school educates grades nine through twelve and has aviation classes for all grade levels that include aviation history, aviation maintenance, electronics and instruction in piloting aircraft. The school owns two Cessna 172 aircraft, one of which was a gift by Delta Air Lines. A goal of all West Michigan Aviation Academy students is to complete a solo flight. Once accomplishing this achievement. students are permitted to wear white shirts which allows them to stand out from the blue that is the usual code of dress.
The curriculum at The Academy is also focused on engineering and provides instruction in robotic systems, computer science, and aerospace engineering.
The academy is home to a diverse group of students with a 28 percent African-American enrollment as well as having nine percent of the student population coming from homes that have primary languages other than English.
Dick DeVos has reason to be proud of the academic accomplishments of children attending his school also as the average SAT scores for juniors attending the West Michigan Aviation Academy last spring what both higher than the average for the state and ranks among the top ten for the county.
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