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Jill Biden visits Green Bay to promote administration’s education policies

First Lady, education secretary hear from local students participating in Wisconsin Apprenticeship program

Jill Biden smiles as she shakes hands with people in a crowd.
First Lady Jill Biden speaks to attendees Friday, Feb. 16, 2024, in Green Bay, Wis. (Angela Major/WPR)

First Lady Jill Biden and U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona were in Green Bay on Friday to promote the Biden Administration’s education policies.

They visited the city’s Rail Yard Innovation District, where they met with state and local officials and spoke to high school students about northeast Wisconsin’s career development programs.

Cardona said giving students job skills in high school is important for meeting the demands of the 21st Century workforce. 

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“For too long, we’ve normalized in education a system that’s designed around one narrow pathway to opportunity, and that’s created a four-year college or bust mentality across the country, but that won’t work,” he said. “We need to evolve our schools. We need to move forward into a reality where schools shift quicker to meet the demands of today’s workforce.”

Cardona said Wisconsin is doing just that, noting the state received nearly $1.5 million from the Biden Administration’s Career Connected High Schools program.

“Wisconsin, you prove you’re worthy of your state motto, ‘forward,’” Cardona said.

The secretary gestures as he sits and speaks.
U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona speaks Friday, Feb. 16, 2024, in Green Bay, Wis. (Angela Major/WPR)

Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers said the federal funding for professional development will help build on work being done in the Wisconsin Apprenticeship program. He said the program has seen “record enrollment” in recent years with more than 8,300 students participating.

“We’re going to be able to build upon this work with 20 pilot schools across our state that will receive funding to prepare and connect more than 10,000 students to these valuable career and technical education resources,” Evers said.

Biden said the work being done in Wisconsin schools is an example of the administration’s vision of education in action. 

“President Biden and state leaders are transforming education (by) reimagining middle school and high school classrooms and turning them into places that students can try out different careers, explore their interests, and discover how to turn those interests into good paying jobs,” she said.

During a media briefing ahead of the first lady’s visit, Republican Party of Wisconsin officials painted a different picture. State GOP chair Brian Schimming cited a survey by the conservative business lobbying group Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce that found nearly three quarters of state businesses believe the K-12 education system is not preparing students for the workforce.

“They would prefer to throw tens of millions of dollars into wasteful (diversity, equity and inclusion) spending at public universities instead of investing in real skills that would benefit Wisconsin workers,” Shimming said of public education in the state.

De Pere School Board Member Melissa Niffenegger said during the GOP press call she believes the state is facing a “crisis in our public education sector.”

Jill Biden waves as she exits the white aircraft. She wears a black coat and black gloves.
First Lady Jill Biden waves as she arrives Friday, Feb. 16, 2024, in Green Bay, Wis. (Angela Major/WPR)

Students, local officials share career-focused efforts

However, students and educators who met with the first lady and education secretary described professional development opportunities they believe set kids up for success after leaving high school.

Mishicot High School senior Adam Backus participated in a youth apprenticeship at Holy Family Hospital as a certified nursing assistant.

Backus said he joined the program after experiencing the health care system firsthand when he ruptured his spleen playing football. The teen spent a week in the intensive care unit and grew to appreciate health care professionals.

When Backus had the opportunity to participate in a youth apprenticeship at a local hospital, he said he jumped at the chance. 

“This is my first year doing it,” he said. “I got to work alongside nurses and help provide care. I’ve gotten to do really cool things. I’ve taken out catheters. I’ve taken out IVs. It’s crazy.”

Jill Biden rests her head on her hand as she smiles. Tony Evers sits next to her.
First Lady Jill Biden sits next to Gov. Tony Evers, left, on Friday, Feb. 16, 2024, in Green Bay, Wis. (Angela Major/WPR)

Mishicot senior Katelyn Callahan has a youth apprenticeship with Shoreline Credit Union. She said she’s taken every business class available at school, but the apprenticeship has given her the opportunity to understand what it’s like to work in a professional environment.

“Through working in an office environment, I’m able to learn how to dress professionally, send appropriate emails and communicate effectively with my team and supervisors,” she said. “In the future, I hope to obtain more accounting internships and eventually find a job in the field after college.”

After Callahan told her story of balancing academics, work and athletics, Biden smiled at her and said, “I’m sure you’ll get a job.”

Jill BIden and the student both smile as they speak.
First Lady Jill Biden speaks to Mishicot High School student Katelyn Callahan, right, on Friday, Feb. 16, 2024, in Green Bay, Wis. (Angela Major/WPR)

Biden added that northeast Wisconsin school districts are doing work that gives kids opportunities they can take with them for the rest of their lives.

“You are providing students with an incredible education and opportunity to discover what they love to do, and a solid foundation for their future,” she said.

Visit is the most recent in ramp up to presidential election

Friday was the first lady’s third visit to the state since August 2023, when she stopped in Madison to highlight the White House’s cancer prevention work and support for public schools. In October, she visited the Menominee reservation as part of a two-day trip to northeast Wisconsin.

Jill Biden is hugged by her greeters.
First Lady Jill Biden is greeted as she arrives at the airport Friday, Feb. 16, 2024, in Green Bay, Wis. (Angela Major/WPR)

President Joe Biden was in Superior last month to promote the administration’s infrastructure investments. In August and December, the president stopped in Milwaukee to promote the Inflation Reduction Act and efforts to support Black-owned businesses.

Vice President Kamala Harris also stopped in Wisconsin last month to talk about abortion rights.

Friday’s visit came as the most recent Marquette University Law School Poll showed Biden and former president Donald Trump were tied in Wisconsin just nine months ahead of the November election.