Monday, December 14, 2009

The one government program that Democrats will cut

Everything in the federal budget always seems sacrosanct, but there is one program that the Democrats are willing to cut - the tiny vouchers program in Washington, D.C. They've been gunning for it since they took over, but, after pressure last summer, they promised to take a look at it and examine whether it was successful. But now they've put in the omnibus spendings bill a provision to defund any new scholarships. Even the Washington Post is not happy with them.
IT IS DISTRESSINGLY clear that congressional leaders never really meant it when they said there would be a fair hearing to determine the future of the District's federally funded school voucher program. How else to explain language tucked away in the mammoth omnibus spending bill that would effectively kill the Washington Opportunity Scholarship Program?

Deep in the folds of the thousand-page 2010 spending bill, which wraps together six bills, is language that (thankfully) would continue funding for students currently in the program but close it down for new students. Also included are onerous requirements about testing and site visits.

Contrary to claims of this being a compromise, the measure is really slow death for a program that provides $7,500 annually to low-income students to attend private schools. The number of students participating in the program has already shrunk from more than 1,700 to 1,319, and the nonprofit that administers the scholarships has said that it may have to pull out because the conditions would be untenable. It's also possible that some schools that now enroll voucher students could be forced to shut down.

Key lawmakers in the appropriation process have been, at best, disingenuous about their intentions, thus placing the program's advocates in their current no-win situation. Sen. Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.) made encouraging comments about allowing new students but, despite his clout as majority whip, did nothing to make that happen. Rep. Jose E. Serrano (D-N.Y.) said that he didn't want to usurp local control, even as the mayor, the schools chancellor and a majority of the D.C. Council lobbied for the acceptance of new students.
Keep in mind that the legislators are happy to tuck in all sorts of earmarks for their own state's education programs. Over at Heritage, you can check out some of the education pork in the new spendings bill.
* Senator Tom Harkin of Iowa appears to have secured lots of pork for the Hawkeye state. The largest earmark is $7.3 million for the “Harkin Grant” program which subsidizes school construction and modernization.
* The Utah-based “I Won’t Cheat” Foundation for anti-steroids education receives $250,000.
* The Lincoln Center in New York City receives $800,000 for a jazz program.
* The Rodel Foundation of Delaware gets $150,000 for its Parent Leadership Institute.
* A dropout prevention program in Scottsdale, Arizona gets $150,000.
* College football fans will notice that there is even some BCS-pork in the Omnibus. Fans at Boise State and the University of Iowa can celebrate $465,000 in education earmarks at their bowl games this year!
As long as the federal government is funding anti-steroids education in Utah and jazz in New York City, surely we could help some inner city students in the nation's capital get a better chance at education. It seems that the NEA is getting value for all the money it spends on education. They're number one in interest group spending on national political contributions. And they have said ixnay on anything resembling vouchers so the D.C. program has to go.