A Philadelphia mother and her fourth-grade daughter made a special appearance Tuesday night as guests for President Donald Trump’s State of the Union address.
Stephanie Davis and daughter Janiyah sat in the gallery as the president spoke. He talked directly to the girl while discussing his plans for school choice and federal tax credits.
“Janiyah, I have some good news for you. 'Cause I am pleased to inform you that your long wait is over. I can proudly announce tonight that an opportunity scholarship has become available, is going to you, and you will soon be heading to the school of your choice,” Trump said.
The scholarship is being provided to Janiyah directly from U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, who in her personal capacity donates her salary every year to various organizations, according to a Department of Education spokesperson.
The president praised Davis for wanting to get her daughter into a better school. Janiyah had been on a waiting list for a school-choice scholarship.
While Davis, a single parent, “would do anything to give her daughter a better future,” Trump said, “that future was put further out of reach when Pennsylvania’s governor vetoed legislation to expand school choice.”
Trump urged Congress to pass legislation to expand school-choice scholarships across the country.
Janiyah, who loves art and math, “has been assigned to low-performing schools,” according to a White House statement earlier in the day. The mother and daughter were not available for interviews and the White House did not name which school she attends.
Pennsylvania’s school-choice programs — which provide tax credits to businesses in exchange for donating to scholarships for students to attend private schools — have been an ongoing debate.
Last year, Republican House Speaker Mike Turzai tried to nearly double the program with a bill that would have grown it by $100 million, enabled it to increase automatically in the future, and upped income limits for participating families to $126,216 a year for a family of four.
But in June, Gov. Tom Wolf, a Democrat, vetoed the legislation, saying it had diverged from the program’s mission of lifting people out of poverty and didn’t provide accountability for state tax dollars, at a time when many public schools are struggling with funding. He and lawmakers later agreed to a budget that increased the program by $25 million. (The governor defended his record at a Wednesday event, describing Trump’s criticism as "some posturing going on there.”)
Vice President Mike Pence will visit St. Francis de Sales School in West Philadelphia on Wednesday for an event marking School Choice Week.
Davis and her daughter were among a handful Philadelphians attending the address, including Sister Mary Scullion, Philadelphia’s nationally renowned expert on homelessness, who was to be a guest of the local congressional delegation.
Democratic Rep. Mary Gay Scanlon of Delaware County invited West Philadelphia native Kevin Harden, a gun violence survivor and lawyer. Democratic Rep. Madeleine Dean of Montgomery County invited Patrick Flynn, who struggled with opioid addiction for 10 years and is now an activist. Democratic Rep. Andy Kim of Burlington County invited Melissa and Gianna DiMona of Medford Lakes, who lost two family members in separate military training accidents.