NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


January 30, 2008

If unrestricted federal education grants are kosher for college students, why not for grades K-12 too?   That's the question President Bush is asking with his proposal to create Pell Grants for Kids, a program to offer $300 million in scholarships that low-income students could use to attend the school of their choice, says the Wall Street Journal.

Pell grants for college are among the most popular ways to spend money in Washington. Over the past seven years, members from both sides of the aisle have lined up to expand the number and size of these grants that students can use to attend the college or university of their choice, public or private:

Last year, 5.3 million students received a total of $14 billion in Pell grants, up from 4.3 million students receiving $8.8 billion at the start of the Bush Presidency.  However, what no one wants to admit is that Pell grants are essentially "vouchers," with the decision about where to spend the money in the hands of parents and students, says the Journal:

  • President Bush's proposal would give Pell grants to students stuck in public secondary and elementary schools that have failed to meet federal testing benchmarks for five years running or that suffer high drop out rates.
  • The bulk of that money would go to inner-city students who otherwise have little chance of going to college or even finishing high school.
  • In the same way, the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship program has given 2,600 of the poorest students in Washington a better chance at a good education.

Neither of these programs is getting anywhere in the current Congress, however, and the new Pell grant proposal was immediately denounced by Democrats.  The reason, as ever, is because K-12 education is dominated by a union monopoly that can't abide parental choice.  Lucky for students the same unions don't yet run American universities, says the Journal.

Source: Editorial, "Those Pell Vouchers," Wall Street Journal, January 30, 2008.

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