If it walks like a voucher and it quacks like a voucher then it’s probably a voucher, says Alex Koppelman in Salon, on President Bush’s pitch for a $300 million “Pell Grant for Kids” program, which would allow low-income kids in failing public schools a chance to attend a private or religious school. That’s the instant conventional wisdom in a nutshell, with no one in the commentariat giving the plan a hope in Hell, whether they like the idea or not:
Writing for National Review Online, Checker Finn notes Senators Bob Packwood and Pat Moynihan proposed something almost identical in 1979. “To date, Congress has scorned this very good idea. Odds are that will happen again with the President’s new plan — and that will be a pity indeed.”
USA Today points a 2004 proposal of Lamar Alexander’s as the model for Bush’s plan, noting it never passed a congressional committee. The paper’s “Reality Check” points out that “Bush has proposed a federally funded private-school voucher each year since 2001. His only real success so far: a five-year pilot program narrowly approved by Congress in 2004 for students in the District of Columbia.”
“If unrestricted federal education grants are kosher for college students, why not for grades K-12 too?” asks the Wall Street Journal, noting as nearly everyone does that Pell grants are essentially vouchers, with the decision about where to spend the money in the hands of parents and students. The Journal is even stronger than Finn on the idea’s chances, giving the idea no chance of getting anywhere “because K-12 education is dominated by a union monopoly that can’t abide parental choice.”
The New York Times dismisses the President’s idea as “the latest effort by his administration to channel tax dollars to low-income parents to help them send their children to private or religious schools,” and quotes Ted Kennedy and Randi Weingarten pouring cold water on it
In the blogosphere, eduflack tips his hat to the POTUS’ choice of monikers. “It was a bold move, and a bold choice of words,” he writes, “since one can’t imagine that former U.S. Senator Claiborne Pell would ever put his name on an educational program from this President.”
Eduwonk, one step ahead as usual, sees the proposal as evidence that Ed Secretary Spellings “has it in for charter schools.” By linking vouchers to declining Catholic school enrollment Bush and Spellings “may have sabotaged any chance at compromise” and expansion of federal support for charters.