Colorado Springs businessman and real estate developer Steve Schuck and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos have been friends and allies for a long time.
So, when he invited her to Colorado Springs to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the nonprofit organization Schuck and his wife, Joyce, started to help low-income children attend schools of their choice, she was all in.
“We’ve done national school-choice work together for decades,” Schuck said, “so we’re friends and co-conspirators in the battle for school choice.”
DeVos will attend an invitation-only luncheon June 26 for Parents Challenge, which provides more than 200 scholarships of up to $2,000 annually for qualifying students to attend schools outside their neighborhoods.
The DeVos family has supported the Schucks’ organization over the years, and on a personal level, Steve Schuck advised DeVos’ husband, Dick, in making a run for governor of Michigan.
“I helped him with his campaign as a businessman running for governor, as opposed to a politician,” said Schuck, who sought the Republican nomination to run for Colorado governor in 1986.
DeVos will discuss school choice at the luncheon and meet with students and parents representing the four types of schools Parents Challenge recipients attend: traditional public, charter public, private and homeschool.
About 400 invitees, primarily beneficiaries and supporters of Parents Challenge, are expected to attend, he said. DeVos is not planning other appearances while she’s in Colorado Springs, he added.
The event will be at James Irwin Charter Schools’ high school field house. The James Irwin network of charter schools, founded 19 years ago in Colorado Springs, is known for producing high-performing students. Minorities make up 70% of enrollment.
Schuck said his organization considered up to 30 schools in the Pikes Peak region at which to hold the event and chose James Irwin because it serves the diverse, low-income demographic Parents Challenge targets for assistance.
“We are thrilled to host this special luncheon,” said Linda Carroll, James Irwin’s director of advancement. “Secretary DeVos has been a terrific advocate for school choice for the past several decades.”
Although DeVos has faced harsh criticism since President Donald Trump nominated her for the Cabinet, Schuck defended her as an “unabashed champion for kids, not the system.”
“Her highest priority without any question is what is best for the children, especially the disadvantaged kids who are assigned to the worst-performing schools,” he said.
“She’s all about empowering the parents, which is why she gets so much criticism.”
At least 16 states and Washington, D.C., provide education vouchers, similar to the Schucks’ organization, using taxpayer dollars instead of private money. Opponents object to tax dollars being used to pay for private-school education, saying it strips public schools of needed funding.
Parents Challenge is funded by about 200 private donors, Schuck said, and doesn’t dictate what type of school students can use the money to attend. About half choose private schools, 20% public charter schools, 15% traditional public schools and 10% homeschooling, he said.
“We feel privileged to be in a position to try and help those who the system has left behind,” Schuck said, “and have access to the tools and education that will give them a fair chance at the American dream.”