Trump tours Fla. private school, promoting choice

President Donald Trump talks to children in Jane Jones fourth grade class during a tour of Saint Andrew Catholic School, Friday, March 3, 2017, in Orlando, Fla. At left is Trump's daughter Ivanka Trump. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

By DARLENE SUPERVILLE and JONATHAN LEMIRE

Associated Press

ORLANDO, Fla. — President Donald Trump toured a private religious school in Florida on Friday, praising it as an ideal institution for “disadvantaged children” while re-emphasizing that his education agenda will focus on school choice.

Trump visited St. Andrew Catholic School in Orlando, dropping in on a fourth-grade classroom and shaking hands with students who said they were learning about the history of Florida. When one girl said she wanted to own her own business, he said with a smile that she’s “gonna make a lot of money. But don’t run for politics.”

The president, who was joined by Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, a longtime charter schools advocate, described St. Andrew as “one of the many parochial schools dedicated to educating some of our nation’s most disadvantaged children.”

“Education is the civil rights issue of our time,” said Trump, repeating a line from his address to Congress this week.

Teachers unions were quick to criticize the visit, saying it showed hostility by Trump toward public schools and an intention to turn education into a profit-making industry.

Trump said he would ask lawmakers to pass a bill that would fund school choice for disadvantaged young people, including minority children. He did not offer any details.

Among his guests were Gov. Rick Scott, Sen. Marco Rubio and Denisha Merriweather, who used Florida’s school voucher program to attend a private high school that she credits with turning her life around. Many of St. Andrew’s students attend the school using the same voucher program as Merriweather, said White House spokesman Ninio Fetalvo.

“We want millions more to have the same chance to achieve the great success that you’re achieving,” Trump said. The president also told Latrina Peters-Gipson, the school principal, that “the love you have for what you do is really fantastic.”

Despite being at the school, Trump also noted anew that he captured Florida in last year’s election. After the visit, he flew to his coastal home in Palm Beach and later attended a Republican National Committee fundraiser that was closed to the news media. Trump was scheduled to return to the White House late Sunday.

DeVos has a long history of promoting charter schools and vouchers. Charter schools are funded with taxpayer dollars, but are run by private groups and have more freedom over curriculum, staff and budget. Vouchers are essentially publicly funded scholarships given to low-income families to help cover private-school tuition.

White House spokesman Sean Spicer said earlier in the week that education is “a top priority” for the president.

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