Vice President Mike Pence spoke at the Capitol Tuesday for the National School Choice Week Showcase, produced by Wisconsin’s Hispanics for School Choice.
This visit marked the first time in the building’s 103-year history a sitting resident or vice president has entered the Wisconsin State Capitol, according to Chief of the Legislative Reference Bureau Rick Champagne, via the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
Pence said he made sure to visit Wisconsin because of the state’s history with school choice legislation. In his speech, he lauded former Gov. Tommy Thompson’s school choice program and former Gov. Scott Walker’s efforts to expand school choice.
“I’m here in Wisconsin because this is where it all began,” Pence said. “School choice is an idea whose time has come.”
Back during his tenure as governor, Thompson created Wisconsin’s first school choice program, which provided vouchers for low-income students in Milwaukee to attend private school.
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Pence said he opposed efforts to phase out these school choice programs, and he said everyone listening should do the same. Evers said during his gubernatorial campaign he opposed the voucher program but hasn’t actually approved any legislation to do so.
Evers announced he wouldn’t be able to appear at the event yesterday. Pence referenced his absence in his speech.
“I know the Governor couldn’t be here today, so let’s make sure he hears us,” Pence said.
Pence said school choice programs benefit minority families, specifically Black and Hispanic families because they can choose to go to private schools instead of struggling public schools.
Pence also said he and Department of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, along with President Donald Trump, have started working on a plan to provide $5 billion for school choice programs across the country, called Educational Freedom Scholarships.
“Every single Republican representing Wisconsin in Washington D.C. supports school choice,” Pence said. “The time for Educational Freedom Scholarships is now.”
Wisconsin’s statewide private school voucher program provides, like Pence described, taxpayer money for families to send their children to private schools instead of public schools. The statewide program has enrollment caps, meaning only a set number of students in each district can enroll each year, though the Milwaukee-specific program doesn’t.
DeVos also spoke at the event. She referenced the same plan as Pence and said school choice programs help students across the country — though a group of protestors interrupted her talk by chanting “shame.”
“This administration will always champion America’s students,” DeVos said. “Every one of them.”
The Democratic Party of Wisconsin posted a press release Tuesday morning in reference to Pence’s visit.
In the release, Madison School Board Member Ananda Mirilli said school choice programs don’t fulfill Pence and DeVos’ promise to provide high-quality education to all students because it doesn’t give public schools access to the resources they need.
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Dane County Board Candidate Jose Rea said in the release the Trump administration’s plan means some students fall through the cracks.
“It frustrates me because I know there [are] tons of other folks here in this community who need access to these resources,” Rea said. “If we can’t keep that up, people are going to continue to fall through the cracks. Our public education system should not be about profit.”