What to Know
- Janiyah Davis, a 4th grade student, and her mother Stephanie Davis, both of Philadelphia, were among President Trump’s special guests during his State of the Union speech.
- Trump pointed Davis out during his speech and announced she would receive an Opportunity Scholarship allowing her to go to the school of her choice.
- The moment shed light on the national debate over school choice, which opponents argue takes away funding from public schools.
President Donald Trump announced a school choice scholarship for a young Philadelphia student who attended his State of the Union address Tuesday night.
Janiyah Davis, a 4th grade student, and her mother Stephanie Davis, both of Philadelphia, were among President Trump’s special guests during his State of the Union speech.
The White House website described Janiyah as a student who “loves art and math, but for too long she has been assigned to low-performing schools.”
“Her mom, Stephanie, is a hardworking single mother who tried to apply for a tax credit scholarship,” the statement said. “But due to Pennsylvania’s governor recently vetoing school choice legislation, Janiyah remained among the estimated 50,000 students on a waitlist.”
During his speech Tuesday night, Trump addressed the mother and daughter and announced that Janiyah would receive an Opportunity Scholarship.
“Janiyah and Stephanie are in the gallery this evening,” Trump said. “But there is more to their story. Janiyah, I am pleased to inform you that your long wait is over. I can proudly announce tonight that an Opportunity Scholarship has become available, it is going to you, and you will soon be heading to the school of your choice!”
Trump then called for the passing of the Education Freedom Scholarships and Opportunity Act.
“Now, I call on the Congress to give 1 million American children the same opportunity Janiyah has just received,” Trump said. “Pass the Education Freedom Scholarships and Opportunity Act -- because no parent should be forced to send their child to a failing government school.”
The announcement came a night before Vice President Mike Pence visited St. Francis de Sales School in West Philadelphia to talk about School Choice Week. Joining Pence were U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos and senior Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway.
The Philadelphia event was education-themed. DeVos is touring the states to tout her $5 billion plan to fund tuition for private school students. The "Education Freedom Scholarships" allow businesses and individuals to get 100% federal tax credits for donations to scholarship-granting groups.
The State of the Union moment shed a spotlight on the debate over school choice, which describes a variety of programs allowing public education funds to follow students to schools that fit their needs, including public, private, charter and home schools.
Opponents of school choice argue that it takes away funding from public schools, many of which already have limited resources.
Pennsylvania is one of 18 states in the country that accepts the Opportunity Scholarship Tax Credit Program, a form of school choice allowing individuals or corporations to receive a tax credit from state taxes against donations made to nonprofit organizations that grant private school scholarships.
Critics say it lacks accountability, transparency and oversight, and siphons cash away from public schools.
Over the summer Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf, who has advocated for funding the state's public school systems rather than school choice, vetoed an expansion of the state’s Educational Improvement Tax Credit Program.
“Education is the cornerstone of democracy, and it is my job as the leader of this commonwealth to ensure fairness and accountability in our classrooms,” Wolf said. “House Bill 800 would pour funding into a program that lacks these two critical aspects, We have an accountable public education system in place that is underfunded. I have and I will continue to fight to fully fund Pennsylvania’s public schools.”