Vice President Mike Pence on Tuesday gave an election-year defense of President Donald Trump’s education policies — assuring parents at a Capitol rally that under the Republican president, children will not be stuck in poorly performing schools.
Pence and U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos turned a state rally promoting alternatives to public schools into a stump speech for Trump, who needs to keep Wisconsin’s 10 electoral votes in his corner as he faces reelection and an impeachment trial.
“I’m here in Wisconsin because this is where it all began,” Pence told a crowd of hundreds in the Wisconsin State Capitol’s rotunda, referring to Milwaukee’s private school voucher program — the nation’s first.
The visit to the statehouse — a first for a sitting vice president — put on alert local education officials and public school advocates who see the Trump administration as a threat to public school funding, which they argue has been decimated over the last 10 years by the programs Pence and DeVos promoted.
In a press conference after Pence’s speech, Rep. Jonathan Brostoff, D-Milwaukee, said his bill would phase out vouchers in the state and reinvest in public schools.
“(Pence) has no idea what’s going on here,” Brostoff said. “He represents a complete erosion of one of the most fundamental values and one of the greatest values of this country which is strong public education and that’s certainly a Wisconsin value.”
Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, and Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, also spoke at the event, with both vowing to uphold the state’s voucher program.
“As long as Republicans control the Legislature, we plan to keep it,” Fitzgerald said.
During his speech, Vos encouraged students participating in the event to cheer for Trump, Pence and DeVos and boo “those who don’t like school choice.”
The Democratic Party of Wisconsin held an event in response to Pence’s visit, where party chairman Ben Wikler called the event a celebration for the attack on public schools by President Donald Trump and his administration.
“Trump and his cronies are sabotaging public education because it’s not their children who go to public school,” Wikler said.
Logan Wroge (fails to compare total spending)
The Milwaukee voucher program started in 1990-91 under former Republican Gov. Tommy Thompson, who attended Tuesday’s rally.
In the first year, the program enrolled 337 students. Enrollment has grown almost every year. This fall, 28,978 students attended 130 private schools on vouchers in Milwaukee.
Another voucher program in Racine started in the 2011-12 school year, followed by a statewide program in 2013-14 and a fourth for students with disabilities in 2016.
In the Milwaukee, Racine and statewide programs, 42,392 students enrolled in private schools this fall using a voucher, or just under 5% of the total school-aged population.
The use of vouchers, though, has yet to catch on in Madison as only three schools in the city signed up to accept students this school year through the statewide program, which state Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, said leaves Madison children with “limited choices.”
Vice President Mike Pence touted alternatives to a public school education during a visit Tuesday to the state where the private school voucher program began, stopping in battleground Wisconsin for a noontime celebration in the state Capitol.
Pence, and U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos were both briefly drowned out by chants of “shame” from dozens of protesters who gathered one floor down in the Capitol building. The protesters, some carrying signs calling for the separation of church and state, also booed throughout their comments.
School choice — which includes private school vouchers, charter schools and other nontraditional options — has long been an issue that divides Republicans and Democrats, particularly in Wisconsin. Conservatives have championed offering students an alternative to public schools, giving Pence a chance to appeal to Republican voters in a swing state during national school choice week.
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Madison’s taxpayer supported K-12 school district, despite spending far more than most, has long tolerated disastrous reading results.
In addition, Madison recently expanded its least diverse schools.
2011: A majority of the Madison School Board aborted the proposed Madison Property Academy IB charter school.
Voucher schools spend far less per student than traditional government supported schools. Traditional K-12 School Districts capture local (property), redistributed state and federal funds, while voucher schools largely survive on state taxpayer funds.