he U.S. Supreme Court is considering oral arguments it heard yesterday on the constitutionality of Cleveland's school voucher program. As the nine justices deliberate, they should repeat this simple mantra: "School vouchers are just Pell Grants for kids."
Opponents of Cleveland's program which gives some 4,200 low-income students up to $2,250 to help attend whatever schools they want argue that it violates the separation of church and state, since most of the initiative's beneficiaries and their parents have chosen to use their vouchers at Catholic schools. As it happens, Catholic campuses were ready, willing, and able to accept these voucher-funded students. Others, admittedly fewer, have taken their vouchers elsewhere. This is the definition of school choice.
If these vouchers unconstitutionally entangle church and state, then so do Pell Grants. This popular voucher program gives up to $3,300 in federal money to help students attend colleges and universities that they and their parents choose. As Joshua Hall, director of Educational Policy at the free-market Buckeye Institute in Columbus, Ohio, explained to me, Pell Grants can purchase course credits at government-run institutions such as Ohio State University. They also may be used at private, secular schools such as Case Western Reserve University and even the Methodists' Baldwin-Wallace College and the Jesuits' John Carroll University. Oddly enough, People for the American Way is not tying its knickers in knots to keep Pell Grants away from college students at these private schools, all in or near Cleveland.
And just listen to what Hillary Clinton told the 1996 California Democratic party convention: "We also need to increase the number and maximum award of Pell Grants."
Defenders of the dreadful educational status quo quickly reply that college kids are old enough to decide whether they want God as their study partner. So, then, why do anti-voucher liberals support the $4.8 billion Child Care and Development Block Grant program? CCDBG provides federal funds for day care. CCDBG vouchers can be used at government-run child care facilities, at private, non-sectarian establishments and even at day-care centers run by religious institutions. The pre-school at the Rev. Floyd Flake's Allen AME Church in Queens, New York accepts CCDBG vouchers. Its federally funded three- to five-year-old students actually memorize verses of the Holy Bible!
Indeed, Section 658 P of the federal Child Care and Development Fund law explicitly states: "Nothing in this subchapter shall preclude the use of such certificates for sectarian child care services if freely chosen by the parent." Where is the outrage?
In fact, rather than denounce this program which allows taxpayer dollars to flow from Washington to parents into the pockets of priests and ministers liberals want even more CCDBG money.
"The President has made a string of decisions with disturbing consequences for millions of children," Rep. Dick Gephardt (D., Mo.) said at a press conference last March 21. Gephardt complained that President Bush's FY 2002 budget "reduces resources for existing Child Care Development Block Grant (CCDBG) projects by $285 million."
On April 3, 2001, Sen. Christopher Dodd (D., Conn.) asked reporters, "which children are they going to leave behind, when 60,000 families 60,000 kids will lose the needed support under the Child Care Development Block Grant?"
Just last January 30, the left-wing Children's Defense Fund released a statement which declared that President Bush "should put considerable investment in the Child Care and Development Block Grant this year so that two million more children in working families can have quality, affordable, safe child care and enter school ready to learn and succeed."
The anti-voucher crowd clicks its church-state angst on and off like a flashlight. Federal vouchers for church-based educational services? "We want more!" for preschoolers. However, they're "pure evil" for kids in kindergarten through high school. But "give us more!" for college students.
If day-care workers and university professors joined the National Educational Association in droves, the position of anti-voucher politicians beholden to the NEA finally might develop some consistency. As it is, this hodgepodge reveals the moral Chapter 11 status of those who gleefully relegate young black kids in Cleveland and beyond to the back of the opportunity bus.
- Mr. Murdock is a columnist with the Scripps Howard News Service.