Former Vice President Mike Pence hailed Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey for “seizing” an educational moment in the Grand Canyon State.
Ducey signed expansive school choice legislation into law in July, expanding education savings accounts to have universal eligibility. The first state in the nation to pass education scholarship accounts, Arizona’s move opened the program to all 1.1 million K-12 students in the state.
“I came here just to thank Arizona for leading the nation on school choice,” Pence said at the Club for Growth School Freedom Forum in Phoenix, Ariz., on Tuesday.
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Pence, the former governor of Indiana, said that while the Hoosier State played an “outsized role in the history of choice,” establishing the very first private choice scholarship program in the 1990s, it was Arizona that took the coveted final step.
“The hope of every state that was championing the right of parents to choose where their children go to school – whether it’s public, private, parochial or home school, was ultimately to have universal school choice,” Pence told Fox News Digital after the event. “And the fact that Arizona accomplished that, I think is a game changer. I think it’s a game changer for education in America. And as I said today, I think it’s I think it’s a hope for renewing the country.”
Pence “conceded” that he hit a “ceiling” on school choice both as governor and later as vice president. A ceiling he said was in place because of a justifiable fondness for teachers.
“And I will tell you, as I said at the forum today, because I doubled the school choice program in Indiana when I was governor, but I’ll concede that there was always a ceiling on school choice, that, you know, a certain amount of hesitation among the general public, which I think ultimately springs from, you know, the love and admiration that we have for the teachers in our lives.”
“We love our schoolteachers, and we should,” Pence said at the forum. And educational choice, he mused, was seen as somehow “antithetical” to teachers.
Pence said education freedom was supposed to be at the “center” of the Trump administration’s campaign before it got “offlined” by COVID-19. He said the pandemic had a major impact on the education front.
“But I think COVID has largely changed that in demonstrable ways,” Pence told Fox News Digital. More and more parents, he said, were frustrated as they saw small Catholic school stay open, while public schools remained closed. He considered it school choice’s “moment.”
“There was one thing to have a moment and there’s another thing to seize a moment,” Pence said. “I’m here because Arizona seized the moment.”
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A report from the National Center for Education Statistics found that reading scores had their largest decrease in 30 years, while math scores had their first decrease in the history of the testing regimen.
Pence said it “breaks” his heart to see the scores and spoke to the impact of COVID-related school closings and mask mandates.
“But having the kids wearing masks, the isolation that that imposed on children, the impact, I mean, it breaks my heart to see those educational attainment numbers that just came out and where you have – you have elementary school kids that have fallen a year or two behind,” he said.
“We actually never called for schools to be closed,” Pence said of the Trump administration, blaming teachers unions for the prolonged closures.
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The former vice president said that thanks to Arizona, the “genie’s out of the bottle.” He predicted more states will begin to “emulate and legislate in a manner similar to Arizona.”
“I think it’s not only going to benefit generations of children and families here in Arizona, not only is it going to inspire other states about universal school choice, but I truly believe it’s the hope of the nation,” Pence said of Arizona’s universal school choice. “It’s the hope of the nation because our system of government is dependent on a well-educated citizenry and our education system is broken today, falling behind by every measure in the world. And I think school choice, education, freedom is the antidote.”