President Donald Trump visited a private Catholic school in Florida on Friday afternoon, making his stance on education reform heard.
The visit comes in the same week as his address to Congress, in which he said, “I am calling upon members of both parties to pass an education bill that funds school choice for disadvantaged youth, including millions of African-American and Latino children.”
“We want every disadvantaged child to be able to choose the local public, private, charter or magnet school that is best for them.”
Trump attended a “listening” session on school choice Friday at St. Andrew Catholic School in Orlando, and met with students, parents, teachers, and administrators.
Trump told the school principal “the love you have for what you do is really fantastic,” the Associated Press reported.
“St. Andrew Catholic School represents one of the many parochial schools dedicated to the education of some of our nation’s most disadvantaged children, but they are becoming just the opposite, very rapidly through education and with the help of the school choice programs,” Trump said at the school.
The event began in prayer before Trump gave remarks. Trump said he appreciated the “uplifting prayer.”
“Students benefit from full education, one that enriches both the mind and the soul,” Trump continued.
The president also spoke to two students, who explained to him they were learning about the history of Florida. One young girl told Trump she wanted to own her own business one day, to which he responded she was “going to make a lot of money, but don’t run for politics.” The quote was reported by WKMG ClickOrlando and the AP.
Education Secretary Betsy DeVos and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio joined Trump.
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In Florida, businesses may receive tax credit back from donations given to private schools. Over 97,000 Floridian students benefit from this scholarship program for low-income families. At St. Andrew, 295 students receive this scholarship, according to The Orlando Sentinel.
Trump had promised during the presidential campaign that his administration would invest $20 million toward school choice.
“That means that we want every disadvantaged child to be able to choose the local public, private, charter or magnet school that is best for them and their family,” a proposal from the Trump campaign said. “Each state will develop its own formula, but the dollars should follow the student.”
There are different types of private school choice programs, including vouchers, tax credit scholarships, individual tax deductions and credits, and education savings accounts.
There are 21 tax credit scholarship programs in 17 states, according to EdChoice, a nonprofit organization that advocates for educational choice.
In terms of number of participants, Florida has the largest tax credit scholarship program. Florida also has a voucher and educational savings account program.
Andrea Wiggins, a single mother of five children, has used the school choice options made available to her in Florida. Wiggins story is highlighted in EdChoice’s 2017 edition of the ABCs of School Choice.
“Ms. Wiggins attended a private school growing up and wanted the same experience for her children,” EdChoice’s guide noted. “But financial troubles, and later a divorce, made private school tuition prohibitively expensive … Wiggins enrolled three children in private schools through the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship program, a financial needs-based scholarship. Her other two children enrolled in private schools with the help of the McKay and Gardiner scholarships, programs for children with special needs. The scholarships helped provide Andrea’s children some much-needed stability during a difficult time. Today, her children thrive in their schools.”
Trump’s visit to St. Andrew was his first school visit since becoming president. Local reports indicated that a group of protesters waited outside the school for the president to arrive.
“I’m afraid that public schools are not going to get the money they need,” protester Leander Houston told The Orlando Sentinel, “and the money that’s sent to charter schools and private schools is not going to be held accountable to them and they’re not going to show where the money goes.”
Yet Step Up For Students, a scholarship funding organization that St. Andrew Catholic School participates with, points to the value of school choice. “It’s not about public school versus private school,” Patrick Gibbons, a public affairs manager for Step Up For Students, told mynews13.com. “This is about helping parents find an education for their child that works for them.”