12:06 P.M. EST
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, hello, Pennsylvania!
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Secretary Betsy DeVos, Speaker Mike Turzai, to Bishop Fitzgerald, Monsignor Strausser, and especially to Sister Mary McNulty and all the incredible teachers and parents and students here at Saint Francis de Sales: It is an honor to here with all of you. (Applause.)
Thank you all for coming out today. And you kids can be seated. You're fine.
It's a real joy to be with all of you today -- it really is -- to see all the wonderful, shining faces here at this great school.
You know, last week, millions of Americans gathered together in thousands of events across the country to celebrate the 10th annual National School [Choice] Week. But I'm here today at this great school because here in Pennsylvania, in the Keystone State, the school choice movement began. And Pennsylvania is leading the way in opening educational opportunities for all of our kids. (Applause.)
In fact, thanks to all the people of Pennsylvania have done to expand educational opportunities, today nearly 200,000 students every year are able to attend the school of their choice.
And the Secretary of Education and I wanted to be here to celebrate that, to thank and congratulate the people of Pennsylvania and thank you for your leadership.
Speaking of leadership, I am especially grateful to be joined by a great leader who's been working to expand opportunities for some of our most vulnerable families in this country for literally decades. She believes with all of her heart that every child, no matter where they come from -- no matter your background, your experience, or your ZIP Code -- ought to have access to a world-class education. Would you join me in thanking our Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos, one more time? (Applause.)
And as I begin, allow me to bring greetings from another friend of mine, someone who is a great champion of expanding educational opportunities so that every American can live the American Dream. I bring greetings from the 45th President of the United States of America, President Donald Trump. (Applause.)
But it's great to be with all of you kids. It really is. You know, I can honestly say I was for school choice before it was cool. I mean, over in the state of Indiana, we had an educational choice program much like you have here in Pennsylvania that, when I was governor of the state, we expanded in ways that benefited families across our state. And I was humbled to be a part of it.
I mean, literally, over the last 30 years, I've witnessed firsthand how thousands of lives were literally changed in my home state of Indiana. And it's meaningful for me to be able to be here today to celebrate the continuing work of expanded educational opportunities here in the Keystone State.
But I'm here to tell you that this Vice President and this President will always stand for the right of every American family to choose where their children go to school: public or private or parochial or homeschooled. (Applause.)
I hope some of you kids got to see that State of the Union Address last night. In his historic address to the nation, the President said, and I quote, we must make "sure that every young American gets a great education and [an] opportunity to achieve the American Dream."
And the President added that, "No parent should be forced to send their child to a failing government school." And we will always work to ensure that every parent in America has the choice on their children's education. (Applause.)
In fact, since early in our administration, I'm proud to report that this President, working with our allies in Congress, has been expanding educational opportunities all across the country.
In the District of Columbia, which is the only federally funded voucher program in America, we've increased enrollment by as much as 50 percent.
And with our tax reform, a few short years ago, now working families can use college savings to send their kids to a quality education at every level.
And as we speak, as the President discussed last night, we're working closely with our entire team and the Department of Education and many of the champions gathered here in Pennsylvania today, to create a new program that will give 1 million more students the freedom to attend the school of their choice. (Applause.) And we're going to fight to make it a reality. They're called Education Freedom Scholarships.
And last night, the President literally called on the Congress to move the legislation to expand opportunities to give other young people and other families, like yours, the same choice and opportunity that you've been given.
You know, Education Freedom Scholarships, we believe, would have a transformational impact on families all across America. As you know here in Pennsylvania, when parents are given the opportunity to choose the best school for their children -- whether it's public, private, parochial, homeschool -- the truth is that outcomes improve; kids do better. In fact, education across the board improves in public and private education.
Now, all of you know firsthand that when you're given the opportunity to choose where you go to school, amazing things can happen.
And today we have with us some incredible people that are worth mentioning, people that I just got a chance to meet a few moments ago -- like a special ed classroom assistant who always dreamed of sending her kids to a school like Saint Francis, but, as a single mother trying to make ends meet, that just wasn't going to be possible.
Then a neighbor who had gotten help from the Children's Scholarship Fund here in Pennsylvania suggested that she put in an application, and she did it. She told me that she still remembers the day when a letter came telling her she'd been awarded a scholarship to cover 75 percent of her son's tuition.
Now her son is in the sixth grade, he's competed in the Reading Olympics, and he's already got under his belt three years of playing the flute. But I heard -- I heard your baby sister is giving you a run for your money. She plays the violin and has got an incredible talent. Will you all join me in recognizing Kalia Atkinson and her children Isaiah and Zahiriah? Stand up, will you? (Applause.) This is a great family and a great American story. Great job.
Then I heard about and met a mental health worker who's also with us here today. A truly inspiring story. She's actually a graduate of Saint Francis. She knew the value of a good Catholic education, but, as a single mom, she thought that public school was the only thing that she could afford. But once she got the help she needed from the Children's Scholarship Fund, she was able to send all four of her kids to Saint Francis.
And today they're an impressive bunch. Her oldest son, Mawzee, is already a civil engineer. Imani was a Gates scholar at Pepperdine University. Her youngest daughter, Islani, is here at Saint Francis in the fifth grade. And her youngest son, Makiah, enlisted in the United States Air Force. Would you join me in thanking Lisa Richberg and her wonderful family? (Applause.) Congratulations and all your success. And give that Air Force airman my very best, and thank him for his service.
The truth is, these folks are just emblematic, I know, of every single one of your stories and the stories of all these wonderful young people behind me, and the opportunity that you getting here at Saint Francis de Sales.
But if you don't mind, there's one other person that I wanted to mention. She grew up right here in Philadelphia. I'm told she's literally been in Catholic education for almost 40 years. She served as a principal for 18 of those years, and she's been at the helm of Saint Francis de Sales for the last 14 years.
Under her leadership, Saint Francis today educates children from more than 40 countries -- children who speak 16 different languages. And perhaps what's most inspiring is that 87 percent of the students here at Saint Francis receive some kind of tuition support. And it's all a reflection -- this outstanding education is a reflection of her care and her love and her leadership. In fact, she likes to say, "The greatest act of justice is to educate." And she lives it every single day.
Would you all mind getting on your feet and thanking your leader and the principal of Saint Francis de Sales, Sister Mary McNulty? Thank you, Sister. (Applause.) They love you. Do you want to say a word?
SISTER MCNULTY: Sure. Vice President and Secretary of Education and all of our honored guests, I want you to know that my best days are the days that I spend with Saint Francis de Sales students. They're the best in the world and we love them. Right, Sister Jane? (Applause.) Thank you. Thank you.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: That's great. Thank you, Sister. Thank you, Sister Mary. Thank you for your love and your leadership and your example.
You know, when you think about Sister Mary and the work that she has done here -- you think about these great American families -- it's no surprise, I'm happy to report, that school choice is growing in its support all across America.
More and more Americans every day agree with the decision about who should decide where our kids go to school. That our kids should -- should not be sent to the school decided by bureaucrats, or formulas, or their ZIP Code, or their family's income, but it's parents who should choose where their children go to school, and that's the principle that brings us here today. (Applause.)
And, you know, it's not really a partisan issue. People in both political parties strongly support educational choice. But I know that the parents and teachers and advocates in this room have still faced some real resistance from special interests and some politicians because of their stand for school choice. It's the truth.
You know, the truth is, it wasn't easy to create the scholarship tax credits here in Pennsylvania 20 years ago to begin with and it hasn't been easy to sustain them.
In fact, last night, President Trump introduced to America a wonderful young girl named Janiyah Davis, who is a fourth grader from here in Philadelphia. She was there with her mom. And they managed to announce that, while she was on the waiting list for an educational scholarship, that now Janiyah will be receiving an Opportunity Scholarship to attend the school of her choice right here in Philadelphia. (Applause.) It was a great moment.
It was a great moment. In fact, I was talking to Janiyah and her mom this morning. I told them, last night, I was headed to Philadelphia and kind of headed their way and asked them if they wanted a ride on Air Force Two. (Laughter.) So they flew out with me today and arrived with me today.
Now, we're excited for Janiyah, but the truth is there are literally tens of thousands of young people and families that are still waiting for the same opportunity here in Pennsylvania that Janiyah got last night.
I mean, you all deserve to know that there are some 50,000 students here in Pennsylvania that were denied scholarships to attend the school of their choice -- denied the very scholarship that you have benefitted from.
I mean, the truth is, the governor here actually vetoed a bill last year that would've expanded school choice scholarships to tens of thousands of Pennsylvania families. So I think we ought to take the opportunity to send a message to your governor and to your elected officials around this state for our kids, for our families, and for our future: Pennsylvania wants more school choice. (Applause.)
But I'll make you a promise: As we work to expand educational opportunities to every family, regardless of their background, you'll always have the support of this President, this Vice President, and our entire administration.
As the President said recently in his School Choice Proclamation, we believe that, in America, every child deserves a fair shot at the American Dream. And that's what you're getting here at this great school.
So let me close simply by saying thank you -- thank you to some very special people -- and giving a word of admonition to all of the great young people seated before me.
First, I want to say thank you to the parents who are here. Can you all give your parents a big round of applause for caring so deeply about your future and making it possible for you to be here? (Applause.) I mean, the parents who have stepped forward, gone through the process, made the sacrifices to make this kind of education possible are the very best of us.
And secondly, let me -- let me also give you a chance to say thank you to another group of people that are truly special, and that is all the wonderful teachers and faculty members at this great school. Give them a big round of applause, will you? (Applause.)
I want to thank the teachers -- some of whom I've met today here at Saint Francis de Sales -- and some of the faculty members, the way you -- you pour yourselves into these kids' lives. The differences you've been making here, literally for more than a generation, is what we like to call "treasure in heaven" at my house. And I want to thank you for that.
I've been married to a schoolteacher for 35 years. My wife actually teaches at a private Christian school two days a week. So we know the sacrifices you teachers and your families make. And so I want to thank you one more time.
And finally, to all the kids who are here, on behalf of your parents and your teachers, let me give you a -- let me give you a word of challenge. You know, the Bible says, "To whom much is given, much will be required." And I know all of you understand that the education that you're receiving here at Saint Francis de Sales is an incredible privilege and it's a blessing.
The truth is, the people of Pennsylvania opened a way for you and for children just like you to attend the school of your choice. The people of Pennsylvania said "yes" to a brighter future for you. Now we need you to say "yes" to that same brighter future. I mean, I know how blessed you are to be here. I spent eight years in Catholic school. I graduated from the eighth grade at Saint Columba Catholic School in Columbus, Indiana. It poured a foundation in my life that I -- I still stand on today.
And we all remember -- we all remember what Saint Francis de Sales said, to "be who you are and be that well." It's a call to excellence. It's a call to commitment. It's a call to be your best self and to be there for others.
So I want you to seize the opportunity you've been given. Keep striving. Keep learning. Keep believing in your dreams. Don't listen to what anybody else says about whatever that big dream of yours is. You keep believing in it. Because I'm here to tell you it can happen.
You know, there's a truth about America that as soon as young people learn it, it makes a difference in your life. It will open up doors you never thought are possible. And here is that truth: In America, anybody can be anybody.
Whether you grew up with a cornfield in your backyard like I did or in a big city, if you work hard, study hard, listen to people who care about you, and you stay away from things that can derail your dreams, young men and women, the sky is the limit. Go live your dreams. (Applause.)
My motto with young people always is the same: Study hard, pray harder. And just wait, it's going to happen for you. Because with God, all things are possible.
So it's great to be in Pennsylvania. Thanks for the pioneering work of this state. You've changed lives. To all the advocates, all the parents, everyone that's been a part of the process of opening doors of opportunity here in Pennsylvania, we thank you.
I am absolutely convinced: As this movement continues to grow across this state and across this nation, as we continue to to open door of opportunities to more families to choose whatever school is best for them -- public, private, parochial or homeschool -- that our families and our communities will be strengthened, our children's futures will be brighter than ever before, and the best days for Pennsylvania and America are yet to come.
So thank you. God bless you. God bless Saint Francis de Sales. And God bless America. Okay? (Applause.)
12:26 P.M. EST