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February 05, 2020

Demonstrators greet Mike Pence in West Philly during visit to Catholic school

The vice president spoke about school choice, but outside St. Francis de Sales, attention was on other issues

Vice President Mike Pence was greeted in West Philly on Wednesday by demonstrators representing the LGBTQ community, refugees, and building trades workers, as he arrived at St. Francis de Sales School to talk about school choice.

The visit follows Tuesday night's State of the Union address, at which President Donald Trump hosted Janiyah Davis, a fourth-grader from Philadelphia. Trump advocated for school choice programs, specifically a federal one that would provide tax credits for contributions to private schools' scholarship funds.  

And during his speech, the president announced Davis would receive an "opportunity scholarship" to attend a private school. It was later revealed that U.S. Secretary of Education Besty DeVos had donated her salary to fund Davis' scholarship.

Both Pence, during his trip to St. Francis de Sales, and Trump, before congress, said in their respective speeches that "No child should be forced to go to a failing government school."

Last year, Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf vetoed a $100-million expansion of the state's tax credit program for school contributions.

"Why would the Commonwealth allow for the expansion of the Education Investment Tax Credit that supports private institutions while our current public-school system remains underfunded?" Wolf said at the time. "We have public schools that are structurally deteriorating, contaminated by lead, and staffed by teachers who are not appropriately paid and overstretched in their responsibilities. Tackling these challenges, and others, should be our collective priority.

Outside St. Francis de Sales, residents of West Philadelphia, activists, and building union workers surrounded the parochial school and church starting at 10 a.m. In a Facebook event called "Love Thy LGBTQ Neighbor Day," organizers invited nearby residents to hang rainbow signs and help block the vice president's motorcade. 

LGBTQ groups have opposed the Pence's opinion that "homosexuality is a choice," and his calls for government funding for conversion therapy.

Members of the Steamfitters Local 420 gathered their own group of protestors at Clark Park before heading over to de Sales. Union members called attention to the job loss from the shuttered Philadelphia Energy Solutions, whose land was just sold to a Chicago warehouse company. Local 420 and other union laborers want the property to remain a refinery, which the White House has already said it supports