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When Liberals Love School Vouchers (Dan Lips)

A quick quiz for observers of the strange world of education policy and politics: When is a tuition scholarship not considered a voucher?

Answer: When the scholarship is for higher education, rather than for elementary, junior, or high school. Pell Grants, the G.I. Bill, and Hope Scholarships—all essentially vouchers—earn wholehearted support from liberals who demonize “vouchers.”

When Democrats take control of Congress in January, a first priority will be to expand the popular Pell Grant program, which provides need-based scholarships to more than 5 million college students. Incoming House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) has already announced support for such a proposal.

To be clear, Pell grants are school vouchers for higher education. Under the program, students who meet certain income requirements can receive a scholarship to help pay college tuition. The scholarship is redeemable at one of 5,400 postsecondary institutions. In all, federal taxpayers spend more than $13 billion on Pell grants.

But Pell Grants are just one example of federal school vouchers for higher education. In 1944, President Roosevelt signed the G.I. Bill, which provided college scholarships to a generation of Americans returning from World War II. More recently, President Clinton championed tuition tax breaks—the Hope Scholarship and Lifetime Learning tax credits—which give millions of Americans direct subsidies to access higher education.

These programs work just like school vouchers for K-12 education. They allow students to purchase an education at a school of choice—whether public or private, secular or religious. But while liberals are quick to support school vouchers for higher education, they are much less enthusiastic about giving students younger than 18 the same power to choose their school.

President Clinton embodies Democrats’ strange position on school vouchers. In 1998, he vetoed bipartisan legislation that would have provided school vouchers to 2,000 low-income children in Washington, D.C., calling the plan “fundamentally misguided.”

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Malaise (Peter Berger)

Thirty-seven summers ago Jimmy Carter spoke to the nation about our “crisis of spirit.”  His address became known as his “malaise” speech, even though he never actually used that word.  Webster defines malaise as an “indefinite lack of health” or “vague sense of mental or moral ill-being.”  In order to grapple with problems like the energy crisis and unemployment,  President Carter called on us to examine our outlook and our priorities.

 Public schools have been staggering through their own crisis for more than a generation.  Part of the blame rests directly on culprits we can see at school: bankrupt education theories and assorted follies like self-esteem, whole language, and enfeebled classroom discipline.  The roots of the problem also extend to our homes and civic institutions and appear as children from single-parent families, drug use, and crime.

These are all issues we should address, but we’re also suffering from an underlying malaise of unsound priorities and entitlement that’s less visible but just as destructive to American education.  Here are a few symptoms of our ill-being.

There’s nothing new about classroom troublemakers.  They’ve been disrupting other people’s education since before chalk was invented, but today we don’t call them troublemakers.  Instead, we obfuscate and invent syndromes for what they do.  We say they’re “behaviorally challenged.”  We turn their conduct into ailments like “oppositional defiance disorder.”  According to the psychologist who coined this syndrome, when kids with ODD have tantrums and refuse to do what they’re told, they aren’t “using coercion or manipulation to get what they want.”  They’re just the victims of their own “inflexibility” and “poor frustration tolerance.”

ODD isn’t alone in the pantheon of euphemistic, exculpatory conditions.  Horn-blasting, tailgating, and obscene gestures are no longer just unsafe, obnoxious driving.  They’re not even “road rage” anymore.  They’re evidence of “intermittent explosive disorder.”  Remember

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Name the Department of Education Building After LBJ (Dan Lips)

When Democrats take over Congress in January, education ideas dismissed by Republican leaders may now receive a legislative hearing. One of those ideas should get conservative support: naming the Department of Education after Lyndon Baines Johnson. For better or worse, the department embodies his legacy.

Since 2003, members of the Texas delegation to the House of Representatives have proposed naming the Education Department building to honor President Johnson, who signed into law the programs that are the foundation of federal education policy. Republicans resisted the idea, but incoming House Speaker Nancy Pelosi could choose to give the idea hearing in the 110th Congress.

Conservatives should embrace this initiative. Naming the Department of Education to honor LBJ would be a permanent reminder of the tragic history of federal education policy. It would also warn future Republican administrations and Congresses about the folly of Johnson’s “Great Society” strategy for improving education.

In 1965, President Johnson signed the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) into law. “No law I have signed or will ever sign means more to the future of America ,” he declared. He also predicted that “all of those of both parties of Congress who supported the enactment of this legislation will be remembered in history as men and women who began a new day of greatness in American Society.” That bill would become the foundation of federal education policy.

Over the next four decades, the federal government’s role in education would grow. In 1980, President Jimmy Carter signed legislation to create the Department of Education, a new cabinet-level agency. Federal spending on education continued to climb, and Congress created hundreds of new programs to improve America ‘s schools. In 2006, the federal government is spending more than $66 billion on elementary and secondary education through dozens of programs across multiple agencies.


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