ORLANDO – Parents who took advantage of the nation’s largest private school choice program had a simple message for President Donald Trump: We were able to send our children to private schools we couldn’t otherwise afford. We want all parents to have that option.
“I’m here to speak on behalf of my family,” Deanna Joyner, a parent who used a Florida tax credit scholarship to pay her son’s private school tuition, told the president during a roundtable discussion in Orlando. “But what about the nation?”
Joyner’s son, Deondre Pride, struggled in public schools but turned his academic career around after using a scholarship to attend Victory Christian Academy in Lakeland, Fla.
He now attends Coffeyville Community College in Kansas on a football scholarship. His mom says his future may not be in sports. It may be in business. He’s working on a degree in agriculture.
Joyner said she worried other children like her might struggle in school, but lack access to options that would keep them from slipping through the cracks.
The president, joined by Gov. Rick Scott, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos and U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, seemed receptive.
He was visiting St. Andrew Catholic School in Orlando, where nearly 85 percent of students are on tax credit scholarships. He told a room full of parents, educators and assembled media that he wants Congress to support school choice legislation.
St. Andrew, he said, “represents one of the many parochial schools devoted to the education of some our nation’s most disadvantaged children, but they’re becoming just the opposite very rapidly, through education and with the help of the school choice programs.”
Bryanna Ortiz, an eighth-grader, told the president she felt adrift at her neighborhood public school, and didn’t feel she was meeting her potential until she enrolled at St. Andrew. She’s now a member of the National Junior Honor Society and on the student council. She’s starting to look at colleges. She said she credits the support of her teachers.
“If I still don’t understand, they’ll give me one-on-one time, which I never had before,” she said.
After parents and students spoke, John Kirtley, the chairman of Step Up For Students*, made a final pitch.
Florida’s tax credit scholarship program is the largest private school choice program in the country. It helps nearly 98,000 low-income and working-class children pay private school tuition. Kirtley asked Trump if he would support a similar program at the federal level, to make similar options available in every state.
Rubio is the sponsor of legislation that would create such a program. Trump asked about its status. Rubio said the bill is in its “early stages,” and could see revisions.
The president told Rubio he wants to keep in touch.
*Step Up For Students publishes this blog and pays my salary.