President Donald Trump visited a successful faith-based Orlando school Friday as part of his plan to push school vouchers.
- President Donald Trump in Orlando today to visit private school
- Trump touted school voucher programs
- President hopes his plan will help low-income students
- Critics say voucher program will drain public school funding
- ▼ JUMP TO ▼: The latest | Hundreds of protesters — and supporters — turn out
In Trump's first school visit since taking office, he toured St. Andrew Catholic School in Pine Hills, not far from Kirkman Road and West Colonial Drive. The faith-based school has about 300 students in the kindergarten-through-fifth grade, most of whom are on scholarships.
The president then particpated in a "school choice" roundtable, which included the principal, a pastor, students and alumni.
School leaders talked about how an income-based tax credit program in Florida has helped the Pine Hills school by allowing them to do more for students.
"Many of you all know the rap that Pine Hills gets, but I would like to tell you St. Andrew Catholic School is the diamond in the rough of Pine Hills," Principal Latrina Peters-Gipson said. "At St. Andrew Catholic School, we soar academically, creatively and spiritually with all children."
It was no coincidence that Trump stopped here: He has been pushing for expansion of school voucher programs, appointing Betsy DeVos as his education secretary, who is a voucher and charter school advocate.
Trump arrived at Orlando International Airport just after 1 p.m., and his motorcade arrived at the school about 45 minutes later. He left Orlando at about 3:20 p.m.
St. Andrew is part of a statewide Step Up For Students scholarship funding organization for low-income and working-class students. It was one of 12 public and private schools in Florida to get the Blue Ribbon designation in 2009. Trump is expected to use the school's perceived success as an example.
The president’s education proposal allows low-income students to choose the school they want to attend, whether it's a public, private, charter school or homeschooling. Trump said he can achieve this through school voucher programs, which gives students money to attend private schools.
“It’s not about public school versus private school. This is about helping parents find an education or their child that works for them. The average kid that comes to our program is struggling in their prior school," said Patrick Gibbons, a public affairs manager for Step Up For Students.
Student Marcus Millien said St. Andrew provided a foundation for him to believe in himself.
“Like I told the president, I work hard because my mother, who is an immigrant from Haiti struggled, to get the best education for me," Millien said. "I wanted to show her that her work wasn’t in vain. She did it for a reason.”
Friday's visit follows the president's address to Congress earlier this week where he talked about education.
“I am calling upon members of both parties to pass an education bill that funds school choice for disadvantaged youth including millions of African-Americans and Latino children,” Trump said.
Meanwhile, critics of Trump's proposal say voucher programs can drain funding from the public school system. Those on the other side of the issue say students in public schools should have the opportunity to receive a better education.
After his visit, the president flew out of OIA on his way to his home in West Palm Beach.
A couple hundred protesters gathered hours ahead of Trump's visit, along the president's motorcade route at the intersection of Colonial Drive and Kirkman Road.
Amy Sanchez said she disagrees with the president’s push to increase support for private, charter and alternative schools. She said her children go to private schools but only because public schools couldn’t help them overcome learning challenges.
“I really feel like what should be done is we should repair our broken public schools, rather than putting money into private schools,” Sanchez said.
“I know many people want their children to receive a religious education, but wasn’t the Constitution set on the separation of church and state? Why is the federal government giving money to private schools to educate our children? That shouldn’t be their job,” she said.
Other protesters chanted as they stood on the side of the road, holding signs reflecting issues on which they disagree with the president.
"We don’t want our children to be pawns of corporate privatization, we want them to succeed,” said Wendy Doromal, the president of the Orange County Classroom Teacher Association.
Not everyone in the crowd opposed the president. Marilyn Velde was one of the first people to show up along the route near the school and said she turned out to show support for Trump.
“I’m all for it. I went to a Catholic grade school in Louisville, Kentucky, and I’m a big believer in helping kids who have less, and that’s what this school is about,” Marilyn Velde said.
A large number of Orange County deputies also were seen patrolling the area. Although it got lound at the intersection at times, the protests were peaceful.