President Bush’s “Pell Grants for Kids” program


Supporters of school choice got a boost this past week when President Bush outlined his “Pell Grants for Kids” program in the State of the Union speech. The concept is a simple one. Today, college students across the nation receive federal Pell grants to help offset college costs. As the Wall Street Journal pointed out, this popular program, which handed out $14 billion to over 5 million college students last year, is essentially a voucher system. The money goes to the student to spend at the college he or she selects, public or private.
In his speech, Bush proposed to create a similar “Pell Grants for Kids” program, to help families in failing public schools pay for private school as an alternative. The $300 million dollar prices tag, National Review calculates, would make $5000 scholarships available to 60,000 kids. They would be allowed to use the funds to attend private or faith-based schools of their choice.
Funding scholarships is slowly becoming the favored way to advance school choice options across the nation, especially as public school voucher programs have struggled to even get off the ground. Utah’s ambitious voucher program went down in flames at the polls last November after withering opposition from teacher unions, including the Maine Education Association. Privately funded scholarships are being seen as a way to help advance school choice without redirecting funds away from the public school monopoly. If a vibrant private school marketplace can be built with scholarships, the argument for school vouchers gets stronger every year.
No doubt the President’s proposal will face enormous opposition, but it is good to hear the case being made to provide alternatives to the nation’s failing public schools, especially for those families that cannot afford either private school tuition or the cost of moving to a better school district. Families that can do either of those two things, of course, already have school choice.