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.”