What's Bush's Pell Grant proposal really about?

Conservative observers suggest a proposal in his State of the Union address means a reemergence of school vouchers in disguise.

Published January 29, 2008 4:19PM (EST)

In a State of the Union address otherwise somewhat lacking in clear policy prescriptions, President Bush proposed "a new $300 million program called Pell Grants for kids."

"We have seen how Pell Grants help low-income college students realize their full potential," Bush said. "Together, we have expanded the size and reach of these grants. Now let's apply that same spirit to help liberate poor children trapped in failing public schools."

And yes, folks, if it walks like a voucher and it quacks like a voucher then it's probably a voucher, and even conservative outlets have been quick to point this out. On Fox News after the speech last night, Morton Kondracke called Bush's idea "a $300 million proposal to basically save Catholic schools in the inner cities of America," and said, "It's advertised as 'Pell Grants for kids' but it's really vouchers all over again. When the Democrats figure out it's vouchers all over again, they will summarily dismiss it ... You can be sure that the Democrats will reject it." Similarly, in an article in the New York Sun, reporter Russell Berman wrote, "Mr. Bush's bid to expand the Pell Grant program to students attending primary and secondary schools signals an attempt to offer more school choice under an initiative that has drawn bipartisan support at the college level. Democrats, however, are likely to view it as an effort to expand school 'vouchers,' which they argue drain money out of public schools."

By Alex Koppelman

Alex Koppelman is a staff writer for Salon.

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