Madison, Wisconsin - Remarks by Vice President Pence at the Wisconsin School Choice Student Showcase:
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, hello, Wisconsin!
To Secretary DeVos, Governor Tommy Thompson, Congressman Steil, Speaker Vos, Majority Leader Fitzgerald, state legislators who are gathered here, to teachers, to parents, and students near and far — all these great kids that got off school today — (applause) — you’re welcome — it is great to be here in Madison to celebrate the 10th annual National School Choice Week. No better place. (Applause.)
And how about another round of applause for our student performers with La Casa de Esperanza and Wisconsin Lutheran. Didn’t they do a great job? (Applause.) And thank you to Mikayla Harris of Messmer High School for stepping up and reciting the Pledge of Allegiance with such dignity and beauty. Great job, young lady. (Applause.) Proud of you.
You know, as we gather here in Madison, there are tens of thousands of events all across America celebrating National School Choice Week. But I’m here in Wisconsin because this is where it all began. (Applause.) It’s true.
Thirty years ago, Governor Tommy Thompson made history when he created the first school choice program in America. Governor Scott Walker built on that progress when he expanded the program statewide. (Applause.) And, today, thanks to their leadership and the support of the people of Wisconsin, more than 40,000 students are able to attend the school of their choice. Governor Tommy Thompson, thank you again for your extraordinary vision and leadership. (Applause.)
And as we mark this National School Choice Week, I’m also grateful to be here with someone who, many of you already know, has literally spent decades working to expand choices and opportunities for some of the most vulnerable families in this country. She’s someone who believes that every child, regardless of their income or their ZIP code, should be able to choose a world-class education. Join me in thanking our great Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos. Thank you for loving our kids — (applause) — doing such a great job for America.
And thank you all for coming out today. It’s great to be here with so many advocates and friends and kids. But as I begin, allow me to bring greetings from another friend of mine — a man who loves the Badger State, who is a great champion of educational choice and opportunities for every American family. I bring greetings from the 45th President of the United States of America, President Donald Trump. (Applause.)
You know, it’s an honor for me to be here today because I was for school choice before it was cool. (Laughter.) I mean, literally, I watched this movement grow over the last 30 years. I’ve seen firsthand the thousands of promising young lives that it’s touched in my home state of Indiana and all across this country. And it’s deeply meaningful for me to have played some small role in that story in — in my state, and now having an opportunity to support programs like this all across America.
You know, I’m proud that over my term as governor of Indiana, we expanded our school choice program. We made it one of the largest in the nation. In fact, one of the very first conversations I had with our President when he was considering asking me to be his running mate was about Indiana’s school choice program. And I’m here to tell you: President Donald Trump stands for school choice for every American and every American family. (Applause.)
In fact — in fact, as a candidate, President Trump promised that — the American people that he would be the nation’s biggest advocate for school choice. And he’s delivered on that promise.
In just his first few months in office, this President authorized the Washington, D.C., Opportunity Scholarship Program — the only federally funded voucher program in America. And under the leadership of this President, enrollment in the D.C. voucher program is up by nearly 50 percent. (Applause.)
We also passed tax reform for working families, businesses large and small. But it included changes in our tax laws so that now parents can use college savings accounts to send their kids to a quality school at every level of education. (Applause.)
And as we speak, the President and I are now working with the Secretary of Education and many of the great champions here to create a new program to provide more than $5 billion in school choice programs across America. The time for Education Freedom Scholarships is now. (Applause.)
Now, you just heard, in this National School Choice Week, we just hit 100 co-sponsors in the United States House of Representatives. And that number is already growing.
You know, I could tell you to call your member of Congress and ask them to support the Education Freedom programs, but you don’t have to call any Republican members of Congress from Wisconsin because every single Republican representing Wisconsin in Washington, D.C., supports school choice. (Applause.)
Join me in thanking your delegation. And, Congressman Bryan Steil, thank you for being a champion for Wisconsin’s families and educational opportunity.
You know, Education Freedom Scholarships, I believe, would have a transformational impact on working families all across this country. They build on the progress that you’ve made right here in Wisconsin.
For the past 30 years, Wisconsin has shown again and again that when parents are given the opportunity to choose the best school for their children — whether that’s public or private, parochial, Christian, or homeschool — outcomes improve, kids do better, and education improves for everyone.
Wisconsin has an extraordinary record of success with school choice, and every family in Wisconsin should be proud. (Applause.) It’s true.
I mean, I’m told: On average, Wisconsin students on the Parental Choice Program score higher on the ACT test than their peers. In Milwaukee, kids from underserved communities who go to choice or charter schools get better test scores and are more likely to graduate. According to one study, students in choice programs are also more likely to go to college here in Wisconsin.
But what’s even more remarkable is that when parents get a choice, kids get better grades — and not just the kids who go to choice schools, but every child, no matter where they go to school, does better when the parents get to choose. (Applause.)
You know, but I hope, for all of you and people all across this country, what’s most meaningful, as we mark National School Choice Week — it’s meaningful to the President and to me — is that — that many of the people who benefit the most, many of the children who benefit the most come from our underserved communities that face unique challenges.
And thanks to what you’ve done here in Wisconsin, it’s been particularly minority communities that have benefitted again and again. Thousands of African American and Hispanic parents that wouldn’t be able to do otherwise have been able to choose where their children go to school here in Wisconsin. (Applause.)
And just look at the results: At choice and charter schools, Hispanic American students perform better in math and English. And, in fact, 14 of the 20 highest-performing schools for Hispanic students in Wisconsin are choice and charter schools. (Applause.)
And that’s why, as we stand here today, overwhelming majorities of African Americans and Hispanic Americans support school choice for our families, for our children, and for our future. (Applause.) It’s true.
I mean, the families that have benefited from this program, Wisconsin, for three decades know firsthand that when parents can choose where their kids go to school, amazing things happen and amazing stories unfold.
In fact, let me tell you the story about the difference that school choice can make. There was a young man I heard about on the way here on Air Force Two. He was struggling in his local public school. And I want to respect his privacy, so we’ll just call him “Hector” today.
By the time Hector was in third grade, I’m told, that he still couldn’t read or write, and he had a hard time fitting in. But his parents heard about Wisconsin’s Choice Program and they decided to sign him up. They enrolled Hector at Lighthouse Christian School in Madison. (Applause.) Hector has now learned how to read and write. He’s gotten good at math. And by the end of the fourth grade, he was testing right at the same level of all of his peers in one short year. (Applause.)
Hector’s story is like so many others. So would you just -– would you please join me in showing our respect for all the teachers, the students, Hector’s family, Hector, and the principal at Lighthouse Christian School, Tia Sierra. Great job. (Applause.) Great job.
You know, and the thing is, you hear these statistics, you hear the numbers — they’re undeniable about what school choice has meant here in Wisconsin and across America. But I have to tell you, what I find more moving is one story at time, one life at a time.
You know, I heard about a young Wisconsinite who, I’m told, is also here with us today. She’s from Milwaukee and she used to think that she’d never have a chance to go to college. In fact, when she enrolled at Wisconsin Lutheran, she had to take entry-level courses, I’m told, just to catch up with her peers.
But thanks to the School Choice Program here in Wisconsin she was able to catch up fast. And today, I’m proud to report, she’s taking advanced classes and she’s about to become the first in her mother’s family ever to go to college. Would you join me in congratulating Trinity Moore? (Applause.)
Let’s not just hear it for Trinity, who is doing a great job, who is going to do a great job in college –- but how about her dad, Cal, and her mom, Shawntel? Give them a big round of applause. (Applause.) That’s what it’s about. It’s about family.
And I just heard about a great Catholic school here in Milwaukee that just had their first graduating class last year. It’s a brand-new school, made possible because of this great School Choice Program in Wisconsin. I’m told that more than 90 percent of the graduates are Hispanic Americans. And all 85 of last year’s graduates are going to college, and they’ll be the first in their family to ever go to college. (Applause.)
So would you join me in congratulating the valedictorian of the Cristo Rey High School Class of 2019, Giselle Vera? Where are you, Giselle? (Applause.)
Aren’t they something? You know, Trinity and Giselle, all the graduates of Cristo Rey are really emblematic. They’re emblematic of success stories made possible by the School Choice Program here in Wisconsin and the generosity of the people of this state.
And, frankly, it’s success that we’re seeing not only all across Wisconsin, but we’re seeing it all across America. When you think about these great stories, it’s no surprise that support for educational choice for families is growing all across America.
Since 2011, the number of Wisconsin schools and students participating in the Parental Choice Programs have doubled, I’m told. And last year alone, participation in Wisconsin’s statewide program increased by 37 percent. Now one in eight Wisconsin students is educated with public funds at the school of their choice. (Applause.)
And when you look at the growth and participation in school choice, it’s clear, in Wisconsin and all across America, school choice is an idea whose time has come. (Applause.) It’s true.
More and more Americans agree that the decision about where our kids should go to school should not be up to bureaucrats, or a student’s ZIP Code, or their family’s income; parents should decide where their kids go to school. (Applause.)
And let me also say, when you’re talking about the wellbeing of our kids and their future, this shouldn’t be a partisan issue. You know, but sadly, in these divided times, I know that parents, teachers, and advocates in this room have at times faced fierce resistance — fierce resistance from special interests and politicians they support. It hasn’t been easy to start this program in Wisconsin 30 years ago, and it hasn’t been easy to sustain it.
In fact, I learned on the way here that there’s a bill being introduced in the Wisconsin legislature that would actually phase out school choice in this state.
AUDIENCE: Booo —
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, I — I know the Governor couldn’t be with us here today, so let’s make sure he hears us: We’re not going to let that happen — (applause) — Wisconsin, for our kids, for our families, for our future. School choice is here to stay! (Applause.)
And I’ll make you a promise. I’ll make you a promise: As you labor to expand educational opportunities to every family, regardless of their income, regardless of their background, I promise you, everybody who’s gathered here today, you will always have the support of President Donald Trump and this administration. (Applause.) We’ll be with you every step of the way.
You know, as the President said just a couple of days ago in his annual School Choice proclamation, we believe in school choice, because as the President said, “In America, every child deserves a fair shot at the American Dream.”
And that’s really what this is all about. It’s the same core belief in the American Dream that — that drives each and every one that’s participating in this program. And it’s about opening up the American Dream to every child, regardless of their background, regardless of their experience.
So I want to — I want to say thank you to a few people. First off, I want to say thank you to all the parents who are here. Thank you for being there for your kids. Thank you for believing in your kids and in their future. (Applause.)
And let me also say, I’ve been married to a school teacher for 35 years. So let’s give some thanks to the teachers who are gathered here today for pouring yourselves into these kids’ lives. (Applause.) You’re making a difference every day.
Thank you, teachers, for the late nights, the early mornings, the lesson plans, the homework grading. Thanks for, every day, the sacrifices you make on behalf of these kids that have given them — given them a shot at a boundless American future. And, finally, to all of kids who are here: We’re proud of you. We believe in you.
When Wisconsin said “yes” to School Choice 30 years ago, they were saying “yes” to your future. And we need you to do the same. To all the kids who are here today, remember that old proverb, that, “To whom much is given, much will be required.” So the opportunities that you have been given, you need to seize those. Keep striving. Keep learning. Keep believing in your dreams.
To all the kids, I want to tell you there is a truth about America that is — as soon as you learn it, will open up doors that you never thought could open before. And it’s simply this: You need to know that, in America, anybody can be anybody.
Whether you’re a small-town guy from southern Indiana that grew up with a cornfield in his backyard, whether you grew up in a big city — whatever your circumstances, I want to promise you that if you work hard, you study hard, you listen to people that care about you, you stay away from things that can derail your dreams: Young men and women, the sky’s the limit. This is America. Go live your dreams. (Applause.)
I always tell young people my motto is: study hard, pray harder. Don’t let anybody tell you anything is impossible, because with God, all thing are possible. (Applause.)
So it’s National School Choice Week in America. And it’s great to be in Wisconsin. Wisconsin has been leading the way for 30 years. Thanks to the pioneering work of this state, you’ve changed lives here and you’ve inspired change all across this country. You’ve opened doors of opportunities for children and families all across this state now for more than a generation, and all across this nation you’ve inspired change.
And I’m absolutely convinced, being with all of you here today, that as this movement continues to grow in this great state and grow all across this nation, that here in America we’ll continue to give parents the right to choose where their kids go to school — public, private, parochial, or homeschool. And all our families, all our schools will benefit for all of our children. And the best days for Wisconsin and America are yet to come. (Applause.)
Thank you very much. God bless Wisconsin. God bless America.