VP Mike Pence advocates for voucher programs on Madison trip

MADISON, Wis. — Vice President Mike Pence made history in Wisconsin on Tuesday, being the first sitting vice president or president to visit inside the state Capitol.

He spoke at the state’s celebration of school choice, a term often used to discuss the voucher program that gives students state financial assistance to go to a private or charter school, following brief talks by Sen. Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, Assembly Speaker Robin Vos and Education Sec. Betsy DeVos.

Pence said voucher programs nationwide are successful and lead to better grades and higher test scores. Recent studies compiled by the Brookings Institute do not back those claims up, though one study pulled data from Milwaukee that showed modest impacts for students in math.

The vice president also shared success stories of some Milwaukee students who he said will be the first in some of their families to go to college, he said because of the voucher program.

“More and more Americans agree that the decision on where our kids go to school should not be up to bureaucrats or a students’ zip code or their family’s income,” Pence said during his speech. “Parents should decide where their kids go to school.”

Opponents of school choice say vouchers take away money that should be going to public schools.

“Trump and his cronies are sabotaging public education because it’s not their children who go to public school at every step,” said Ben Wikler, the chair of the state Democratic Party.

A Milwaukee lawmaker introduced legislation Tuesday that would eliminate the program in the state, which Pence mentioned.

“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,” he said. “Well I know the governor couldn’t be with us today, so let’s make sure he hears us. We’re not going to let that happen.”

In a morning press conference, opponents of the president and school choice policy said President Donald Trump took money from education.

The president’s 2020 education budget proposal decreased spending on education’s discretionary fund by about $7 billion, though it created Education Freedom Scholarships, which put about $5 billion toward private or charter school vouchers.

“They never intended nor will they fulfill any promise to improve our public education, neglecting Wisconsin families and our children,” said Ananda Mirilli, a Madison Metropolitan School Board member.