Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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January 29, 2008
By: Kevin Drum

VOUCHERS....When George Bush talked last night about the "purveyors of false populism in our hemisphere," I knew he meant Hugo Chavez. But when he talked about "Pell Grants for kids," the phrase went right over my head. I guess I wasn't paying attention to the fact that it came right after his praise for "faith-based or other non-public schools."

Anyway, long story short, it turns out that "vouchers" doesn't poll well. "Pell Grants for kids," on the other hand, does. So Pell Grants it is. Steve Benen explains.

UPDATE: From The Corner:

SOTU: "Pell Grants for Kids" [Kathryn Jean Lopez]

went over very well with my Catholic-school focus group, BTW.

Kevin Drum 12:57 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (45)

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Comments

is he taking us to the Gates of Pell? Don't worry luvs, our faith based schools will save us!

Posted by: Trypticon on January 29, 2008 at 1:00 PM | PERMALINK

New code name for the Iraq war: Adventure Travel!

Doesn't that sound better?

Hey, this is fun!

Posted by: john on January 29, 2008 at 1:09 PM | PERMALINK

I've always wondered. If you give vouchers to, say, 40% of a public shool's students, what's a phrase you could use to describe a child in the remaining 60%?

Posted by: apm on January 29, 2008 at 1:09 PM | PERMALINK

apm-- Left Behind?

Unraptured?

pathetic poor children and minorities who deserve their fate because they are born inferior?

Posted by: Trypticon on January 29, 2008 at 1:11 PM | PERMALINK

Although I said the Lebanon reference was the low point of the president's speech, the Pell Grant idea to subsidize racist children's religious indoctrination is terrible domestic policy. The reference of a bill to send over a hundred million to churches for community service was also a very troubling point. The Democrats in the House should not let these expenditures become part of the budget, but I have little confidence in them to do the right thing.

Posted by: Brojo on January 29, 2008 at 1:19 PM | PERMALINK

Better new code name for the Iraq war: "Study Abroad" !

Posted by: H-Bob on January 29, 2008 at 1:24 PM | PERMALINK

I'm thinking in on the teleprompter it read

PURR VEY URS OF FALSE POP YOU'LL ISM IN OUR HEM ISS FEAR"
Psst: Don't Smirk

Posted by: RobertSeattle on January 29, 2008 at 1:28 PM | PERMALINK

But...but...I thought Dear Leader doesn't listen to polls!

Posted by: Gregory on January 29, 2008 at 1:48 PM | PERMALINK

GWB himself is as much a purveyor of false populism as ever was. (Not to mention his purveying of false optimism, false patriotism . . . oh, the list one could make.) And changing this particular pig's lipstick to Pell Grant Pink will have no effect at all.

Posted by: penalcolony on January 29, 2008 at 1:49 PM | PERMALINK

Actually, "Pell Grants for Kids" is a formulation that could, in time, make life very difficult for Democrats.

Democrats really hate school vouchers for 3 reasons:

1. They think vouchers might destroy the public schools.
2. They don't like giving money to religious institutions.
3. They are afraid of harming teacher's unions.

"Pell Grants for Kids" softens objections 1 and 2-- Pell Grants haven't destroyed public universities and nobody thinks that giving public money to religious colleges is wrong.

That leaves us with 3.

Posted by: Dilan Esper on January 29, 2008 at 1:54 PM | PERMALINK

Palast nailed this:
> Here’s your question, class:
>
> In his State of the Union, the President asked Congress for $300
> million for poor kids in the inner city. As there are, officially, 15
> million children in America living in poverty, how much is that per
> child? Correct! $20.
>
> Here’s your second question. The President also demanded that
> Congress extend his tax cuts. The cost: $4.3 trillion over ten years.
> The big recipients are millionaires. And the number of millionaires
> happens, not coincidentally, to equal the number of poor kids,
> roughly 15 million of them. OK class: what is the cost of the tax cut
> per millionaire? That’s right, Richie, $287,000 apiece.
>
> Mr. Bush said, “In neighborhoods across our country, there are boys
> and girls with dreams. And a decent education is their only hope of
> achieving them.”
>
> So how much educational dreaming will $20 buy?
>
> -George Bush’s alma mater, Phillips Andover Academy, tells us their
> annual tuition is $37,200. The $20 “Pell Grant for Kids,” as the
> White House calls it, will buy a poor kid about 35 minutes of this
> educational dream. So they’ll have to wake up quickly.

Posted by: Stewart Dean on January 29, 2008 at 2:02 PM | PERMALINK

Tell K-Lo that "Pell Grants for Middle-Aged Bald Men Who Want To Quit Their Jobs And Go Back To School Full Time" went over very well with my focus group of middle-aged bald men who want to quit their jobs and go back to school full time.

Posted by: Cap'n Phealy on January 29, 2008 at 2:06 PM | PERMALINK

At least we're still talking GRANTS at this point. Before you know it, we'll be replacing voucher programs with "Guaranteed Student Loans for Kids"!

Posted by: BeachBoy on January 29, 2008 at 2:06 PM | PERMALINK

Dilan Esper, there's a big difference between grants for students to go to a private college of their choice and grants to students to go to a private elementary school or be home schooled as mandated by the state. I don't think federal grants for a parochial education is Constitutional for that reason.

Posted by: David W. on January 29, 2008 at 2:21 PM | PERMALINK

It is actually quite brilliant a reframing of the voucher debate- one you are going to see a lot more of since Pell Grants are well-known and well-supported by public opinion. Anti-voucher forces are going to have their hands full as this change in tactics spreads.

Posted by: Yancey Ward on January 29, 2008 at 2:22 PM | PERMALINK

I guess I wasn't paying attention to the fact that it came right after his praise for "faith-based or other non-public schools."

Speaking of what polls well, I wonder if these phrase is intentionally crafted to dodge the phrase "private schools," whick would make Bush sound like the snob he is.

Posted by: Swan on January 29, 2008 at 2:25 PM | PERMALINK

thanks SD for the Palast bit. Sums things up nicely.

Posted by: Trypticon on January 29, 2008 at 2:28 PM | PERMALINK

I'll bet "massive new entitlement" wouldn't poll well at all.

Posted by: kc on January 29, 2008 at 2:39 PM | PERMALINK

I hear "No Child Left Behind" is going to be replaced with "Fuck The Little Bastards," which polls especially well with the Moron 30%.

Posted by: Noam Sane on January 29, 2008 at 3:01 PM | PERMALINK

Dilan Esper, there's a big difference between grants for students to go to a private college of their choice and grants to students to go to a private elementary school or be home schooled as mandated by the state. I don't think federal grants for a parochial education is Constitutional for that reason.

David, that's a distinction without a difference. So long as there are adequate secular alternatives, the "Pell Grant" would not FORCE anyone to attend a religious school. If there are not adequate secular alternatives, I agree that this could cause a problem. But I also think that if the only suppliers of adequate college education were religious colleges, Pell Grants to colleges would cause the same problem.

A good analogy to this would be health care. There are situations in which you have to go to the hospital. Medicaid and Medicare not required to refuse payment if you go to a Catholic hospital, as long as the secular hospitals are treated the same as the religious ones.

All the Establishment Clause requires is a level playing field for secularism. It doesn't prohibit tax dollars from going to religious institutions on the same criteria that they are awarded to secular ones.

Posted by: Dilan Esper on January 29, 2008 at 3:16 PM | PERMALINK

Maybe some enterprising reporter will ask Bush to distinguish between false populism and true populism.

Posted by: Carl Nyberg on January 29, 2008 at 3:27 PM | PERMALINK

The nasty thing about vouchers, like so many other 'conservative' ideas, is that it is not about making America a better place for Americans, or making America more competitive or even making better educated students. In fact, the positive and negative impact of such a program is quite beside the point.

Out of the Cold War, in the minds of people like Milton Friedman, grew the idea that everything to do with government was wrong, coercive and dehumanizing. These ideas became popular on the left and on the right and led to the mistaken belief that any alternative to government was freedom.

The right wing economists never seem to acknowledge corporations or religious institutions, they must not have read history, can also be agents of coercion. So what they propose is morally right from their perspective. The wisdom of vouchers, the utility of it, or the education goals are unimportant. A perverted notion of liberty, or worse, an interest form of coercion and money-making under the banner of liberty, has come to replace beneficial policy.

Posted by: bellumregio on January 29, 2008 at 3:33 PM | PERMALINK

Dilan Esper:
How does changing the name of something address two of the three problems it causes?

This whole thing stinks to high heaven. Don't take the name of a great Senator who supported education and use it to destroy education.

Fortunately, nobody listens to Bush, and this whole idea will go over like his plan to send people to Mars, his plan for tort reform, his plan to balance the budget, his plan to remake the Middle East, his plan to find WMDs, his plan to be a uniter, and his plan to be a decent President.

Posted by: reino on January 29, 2008 at 3:33 PM | PERMALINK

How does changing the name of something address two of the three problems it causes?

1. Because the point isn't the name change but that the name change may draw an analogy in voters' minds which favors the Republican position.

2. Because in actuality those 2 objections are not serious objections to voucher programs. They aren't going to destroy the public schools, and unless people want to declare Pell Grants for colleges unconstitutional, school vouchers don't violate the Constitution.

The best argument against school vouchers is one that I didn't list, that there isn't a lot of evidence that they do any good. And that's a very good argument. The reason I didn't list it is because I get the feeling that a lot of liberals would oppose school vouchers whether or not they did any good.

Posted by: Dilan Esper on January 29, 2008 at 3:38 PM | PERMALINK

In fact, the positive and negative impact of such a program is quite beside the point.

I disagree -- for many of its supporters, the negative impact of the program is entirely the point.

Posted by: Gregory on January 29, 2008 at 4:00 PM | PERMALINK

bellumregio,

Out of the Cold War, in the minds of people like Milton Friedman, grew the idea that everything to do with government was wrong, coercive and dehumanizing.

Yeah. It almost makes one wonder who started that meme. I guess it was simply an accident. After all no one benefits from it do they?

Posted by: Tripp on January 29, 2008 at 4:07 PM | PERMALINK

How about "Pell Grants for national healthcare"?

Posted by: SocraticGadfly on January 29, 2008 at 4:10 PM | PERMALINK

David, that's a distinction without a difference. So long as there are adequate secular alternatives, the "Pell Grant" would not FORCE anyone to attend a religious school. If there are not adequate secular alternatives, I agree that this could cause a problem. But I also think that if the only suppliers of adequate college education were religious colleges, Pell Grants to colleges would cause the same problem.

Are you saying then that the old Jesuit saying about giving them a child and then predicting what that child will grow up to believe is just so much hollow boasting? I think not! That's why Catholics started their own schools, because in the 1800s when there was much anti-Catholic teaching in the public schools of the day that Catholics wanted their children to not be subjected to. If a school is parochial and makes religion a part of compulsory instruction, the state can't support it according to the Establishment Clause. Now if Catholics want to run schools that are as secular as public schools currently are, that's another story. But they can't have it both ways.

Posted by: David W. on January 29, 2008 at 4:20 PM | PERMALINK

If a school is parochial and makes religion a part of compulsory instruction, the state can't support it according to the Establishment Clause.

David, that's a valid view (not my view, but a valid one), but it means Pell Grants are unconstitutional because they give not insubstantial amounts of government money to Notre Dame and BYU and other completely sectarian institutions.

And I don't think many people REALLY believe Pell Grants are unconstitutional for that reason. They just haven't thought through what the constitutionality of Pell Grants (and of Medicare and Medicaid payments to Catholic hospitals) means for the position that government money can never go to a sectarian institution.

Posted by: Dilan Esper on January 29, 2008 at 4:35 PM | PERMALINK

Of course Pell Grants nominally go to the student to use at the school of their choice.

Posted by: freelunch on January 29, 2008 at 4:39 PM | PERMALINK

During the Cold War many sincere people, including great liberals like Isaiah Berlin, dedicated themselves to uncovering the foundations of totalitarianism and revolutionary coercion. The theories that came out of this time were designed to preserve liberty in a dark age. In the end, the idealism was bastardized in dozens of right-wing, and not so right-wing, think tanks. The language of liberty was put in service of the wealthy who were interested in nothing more idealistic than wealth accumulation and protection from redistribution schemes.

The argument that government is the problem goes way back to the 19th century. Then, as now, it was a doctrine that started as an expression of the desire for liberty and ended up as a protective theology for the status quo. How the liberty of property doctrines of the two eras- the Gilded Age and the Cold War compare is quite interesting. The theorists of the Cold War are paranoid and quite pessimistic about human nature. They reject, as a good Victorian could not, the notion of human altruism. In both ages government could not serve the needs of the atomized citizen simply because those needs could not be known. But during the Cold War many came to believe government could never really be good. (On the left think of all those who rejected bourgeois society, the Man, the standardizing schools, the sterile family). This is a rejection of nearly the whole of Western thinking on civil life. Only Thomas Hobbes seems to share the dark Cold War view that the common wealth is an illusion. We are all out for ourselves.

Posted by: bellumregio on January 29, 2008 at 4:50 PM | PERMALINK

David, that's a valid view (not my view, but a valid one), but it means Pell Grants are unconstitutional because they give not insubstantial amounts of government money to Notre Dame and BYU and other completely sectarian institutions.

My point is that since the state doesn't compel adults by law to attend college, it's just on the other side of the church-state line of separation. In addition, the vast majority of those who attend such colleges are there to get a secular degree.

Posted by: David W. on January 29, 2008 at 4:55 PM | PERMALINK

The important thing for Bush and his fellow evangelicals is to divert taxpayer monies to religious schools. They'll keep pressing for that as long as they have political power.

The more money churches get from the taxpayer for their schools and welfare programs, the more money they can spend on recreation centers and pastor's salaries.

Posted by: McCord on January 29, 2008 at 4:57 PM | PERMALINK

Does that constitute a patronage system?

Posted by: bellumregio on January 29, 2008 at 5:03 PM | PERMALINK

Washington is spouting euphemisms. Patriot Act (fascism), immigration reform (codifying corruption).

Posted by: Luther on January 29, 2008 at 5:04 PM | PERMALINK

The Supreme Court has already ruled on the Establishment Clause as it relates to both Pell Grants and K-12 vouchers. When first created, Pell Grants were challenged on Constitutional grounds, and the Court ruled that the state funds went to the student not to the religious university, and were thus legal. Decades later, the voucher program in Cleveland was challenged, and the Court explicited modeled the decision on the Pell Grant ruling. The Court said that vouchers go to the student/parent, not to the parochial school, and thus are not a violation.

The reasons to oppose vouchers are substantive, as noted-- they do not improve educational performance, they partially defund the public schools, and they are likely to lead, in the end, to a caste system. We will end up with the easiest to educate kids in the best schools, and the hardest to educate kids in the worst schools.

"Pell Grants for Kids" isn't their first stab at better propaganda. In the 1990's, many advocates dropped "vouchers" in favor of "opportunity scholarships." You can put lipstick on a pig, but...

Posted by: TNDem on January 29, 2008 at 6:00 PM | PERMALINK

My point is that since the state doesn't compel adults by law to attend college, it's just on the other side of the church-state line of separation. In addition, the vast majority of those who attend such colleges are there to get a secular degree.

Now we are going round and round. You didn't answer the point that the compulsory nature of K-12 education doesn't matter because nobody is compelled to attend a religious school. And people ARE compelled to go to the hospital, and yet government funds going to Catholic hospitals are constitutional, right?

Look, again, you just haven't thought this through. One can, if one wants, take a very hard line against funding for religious institutions. But then our beloved college Pell Grants are also unconstitutional, as is Medicare and Medicaid.

As for the point about people going to get a secular education, as far as I know, Pell Grants cover people who go to college to get theology degrees at sectarian institutions, and the vast majority of K-12 students in a school voucher program who go to parochial schools would also be getting a secular diploma. Again, a distinction without a difference.

Posted by: Dilan Esper on January 29, 2008 at 6:06 PM | PERMALINK

"It is actually quite brilliant a reframing of the voucher debate"

Not really. It's just the standard PR bullshit.

"Anti-voucher forces are going to have their hands full as this change in tactics spreads."

They tried this with privatization -> private accounts -> personal accounts, remember? It was still putting lipstick on a pig -- a pig that the American public didn't want to buy. It's easily countered by pointing out the tactic and refusing to buy into the terminology change.

Posted by: PaulB on January 29, 2008 at 6:08 PM | PERMALINK

"1. Because the point isn't the name change but that the name change may draw an analogy in voters' minds which favors the Republican position."

So? That does nothing to invalidate the point. You're just talking semantics and spin.

"2. Because in actuality those 2 objections are not serious objections to voucher programs. They aren't going to destroy the public schools"

Really? And you know this how, exactly? In any case, if you don't like the word "destroy", how about the word "damage"?

Posted by: PaulB on January 29, 2008 at 6:11 PM | PERMALINK

of course, you can only Use Pelli grants at accredited colleges and universities. Any school that wants to accept oversight, including anti-discrimination and tolerance of religious speech regulations...

Posted by: northzax on January 29, 2008 at 6:35 PM | PERMALINK

Really? And you know this how, exactly? In any case, if you don't like the word "destroy", how about the word "damage"?

PaulB:

There are voucher programs in place in various parts of the country. Have they damaged the public schools?

And have Pell Grants damaged public universities?

Look, I hate to sound like a concern troll, but BOTH SIDES are overblowing the effect of voucher programs. They don't seem to solve the problems with the education system, and they also don't make things worse. They just don't have much of an effect at all, except in perhaps creating a space for nonunionized schools to arise.

(By the way, I think a HEAVILY FUNDED voucher program probably could have some effect on the educational outcomes of poor kids, similar to Pell Grants on the college level. Of course, conservatives will never authorize such a program, and I would also add that jacking up the funding to public schools serving the poor might also have the same positive effect on outcomes.)

Posted by: Dilan Esper on January 29, 2008 at 6:56 PM | PERMALINK
Because in actuality those 2 objections are not serious objections to voucher programs.

Yes, they are.

They aren't going to destroy the public schools

Evidence? Public schools are intended to provide universal education, not selective education like public colleges. Nevertheless, its quite arguable that the available of need-based aid has been among the driving forces behind the elimination of free public colleges and universities and behind the trend toward privatizing public colleges and universities. There were certainly more tuition-free public institutions and universities in the US before Pell Grants than there are now, and even for the students qualified for the maximum aid at the least expensive institutions, Pell Grants rarely pay for full tuition.

So, yeah, I think its quite legitimate to question whether that's a situation parents really want to face for public K-12 institutions.


Posted by: cmdicely on January 29, 2008 at 8:14 PM | PERMALINK

Nevertheless, its quite arguable that the available of need-based aid has been among the driving forces behind the elimination of free public colleges and universities and behind the trend toward privatizing public colleges and universities. There were certainly more tuition-free public institutions and universities in the US before Pell Grants than there are now, and even for the students qualified for the maximum aid at the least expensive institutions, Pell Grants rarely pay for full tuition.

Every state's law guarantees a FREE public education to all of its residents. And the federal government requires that states grant a free public education as a condition of aid.

So, the increase in tuition that has resulted in part from Pell Grants (though, in actuality, mostly from state budget cuts) won't and can't happen to K-12 public schools. (I should mention that the reason Pell Grants lead to increased tuition is not that they drive out public education, but that the revenue replaces tuition revenue and allows states to cut costs. It happens at private schools too.)

And, despite what you indicate, I am not aware of a SINGLE public university that has "gone private".

Posted by: Dilan Esper on January 29, 2008 at 8:21 PM | PERMALINK

Dilan Esper,

Every state's law except Mississippi's, last I checked.

I think you got the better of the Constitutional argument, given the caselaw, but I do think that at a policy level there's a huge difference between state funding of sectarian primary education and state funding of sectarian colleges. College kids going to Notre Dame on a Pell Grant just aren't that likely to be converted to Catholicism, compared to kindergarteners attending Our Lady of State-Sponsored Indoctrination. It's the difference between state sponsorship of education at religious institutions and state sponsorship of religious upbringing of children. Plus, there's the added concern that vouchers are used to facilitate white flight from public schools.

Posted by: The Fabulous Mr. Toad on January 30, 2008 at 11:19 AM | PERMALINK

College kids going to Notre Dame on a Pell Grant just aren't that likely to be converted to Catholicism, compared to kindergarteners attending Our Lady of State-Sponsored Indoctrination. It's the difference between state sponsorship of education at religious institutions and state sponsorship of religious upbringing of children. Plus, there's the added concern that vouchers are used to facilitate white flight from public schools.

You raise a valid distinction (re: indoctrination) though I don't see why college is the right line to draw. Do you believe that vouchers for private HIGH SCHOOLS would lead to this sort of indoctrination? Middle schools?

In any event, vouchers are simply the governmental ratification of a preexisting private choice re: religious indoctrination. I have a feeling most of these kids are going to get indoctrinated anyway.

As for white flight, the public school system facilitates that just fine. And this gets into the distinction between good and bad voucher programs, a game that liberals don't want to play because they are against the concept. But one could structure voucher programs in a way that might actually increase the number of integrated schools, and bring true integration for the first time to some of the more exclusive private schools. As long as conservatives are drawing up the voucher programs, of course, that won't happen.

Posted by: Dilan Esper on January 30, 2008 at 2:36 PM | PERMALINK




 

 

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