Engler was opposed to the idea—the timing was off. “I was pretty certain that it was premature to go to the ballot in 2000,” Engler says, “because if you’re going to go to the ballot, you want to win.” The DeVoses had counted on his support, and when it didn’t materialize, things soured. (“[John Engler] would have a hard time being a first mate even on the largest ship in the world,” Betsy DeVos later wrote. “I think he’d sooner be captain of a smaller boat than the first mate on a much bigger ship.”)

Even so, among the DeVoses’ skeptics, there are those who strike a hopeful, if cautious, tone. “I think Mrs. DeVos could potentially be a really good secretary of education if she allowed parents and school districts to make policy at the local level,” says Daniel Quinn, executive director of the Great Lakes Center for Education Research and Practice, a nonprofit that receives a portion of its funding from the National Education Association. “But at the same time, I’m concerned.”
×