During a visit to a Philadelphia charter school on Monday, U.S. House of Representatives Majority Leader Eric Cantor demanded the U.S. Department of Justice drop its lawsuit over school vouchers or face a congressional challenge.
Cantor (R-Va.) toured the Freire Charter School's Center City high school campus at 20th and Chestnut Streets and then spoke to parents, teachers and students.
During his speech, Cantor called access to a good, safe education the "greatest civil rights challenge of our time."
"Children in America born into poverty often find themselves trapped in failing schools," he told the crowd. "Who would want to keep kids in a school that are violent and unsafe?"
Cantor says Congress will "leave no stone unturned" in challenging the Justice Department, unless it drops its fight over school vouchers in New Orleans.
"If the Attorney General does not withdraw this suit, then the United States House will act. We will leave no stone unturned in holding him accountable for this decision," Cantor said. "The Attorney General will have to explain to the American people why he believes poor minority children in Louisiana should be held back."
About 1,000 students apply by lottery for 150 spots in the freshman class at Freire Charter School's high school, where students told Cantor about their Advanced Placement classes and tutoring centers as he toured quiet hallways and classrooms. The school opened about 15 years ago in a former YWCA, after a $3.5 million makeover, according to board chair Thomas A. Caramanico, president of a nearby engineering firm.
Tha majority leader has been a supporter of school choice, which offers students alternatives to public schools. Some school choice programs offer students the option of using a subsidy from public educational funds towards private school tuition.
Cantor, who predicts that all U.S. children will be entitled to school choice by 2023, embarked on a school tour earlier this year in which he pushed for a policy which he claims outlines "elements of a policy agenda that places less emphasis on federal budget math and more on education."
A small group of education activists, parents and students with the Philadelphia Coalition Advocating for Public Schools protested outside the charter school.
The group argues that school choice bill would defund public education in Philadelphia and across the country by redirecting money to unproven charter schools.
On Sunday, Helen Gym, a member of ParentsUnited, a volunteer group made up of parents of public school students, criticized the congressman as well as his stance on school choice.
"Cantor supports a false notion of choice," she wrote on her Twitter page. "To defund public schools and give parents "choice" among an erratic range of charters."
In 2011, Congressman Cantor was scheduled to appear at Penn’s Wharton School of Business to deliver a public speech on the “American Dream and Economic Growth," however, Cantor canceled his speech after members of Occupy Philadelphia as well as Penn and Temple students marched from City Hall to the Penn campus in protest.
Occupy members claimed the purpose of the march was to “bring awareness of corporate greed to Congressman Eric Cantor.”
Prior to the scheduled appearance, Cantor made headlines when he stated he was “increasingly concerned about the growing mobs occupying Wall Street and other cities across the country.” Cantor later backed away from those comments but still claimed the Occupy movement was divisive and pitted Americans against other Americans.
Cantor canceled his scheduled speech after claiming the audience could no longer be controlled.
"The Office of the Majority Leader was informed last night by Capitol Police that the University of Pennsylvania was unable to ensure that the attendance policy previously agreed to could be met," Cantor spokeswoman Laena Fallon wrote in an email to Philly.com.
A member of the Republican party, Cantor became the House Majority Leader on January 3, 2011. He also served as House Minority Whip from 2009 to 2011.