"Cautious but dubious" is a fair description of the reaction of Memphis City Schools superintendent Carol Johnson to U.S. senator Lamar Alexander's new proposal for $500 "Pell Grants" for middle- and low-income families with school-age children. And it's a fair description of our reaction as well.
The grants, modeled after the Pell Grants now awarded college students, would follow a child from school to school -- which is to say, from public school to private school to religious-oriented institution or wherever the child's parents preferred. "I need to know more," said Johnson after hearing Alexander pitch his proposal at a meeting of the Memphis Rotary Club Tuesday. But, she said, "A lot of people would tend to see that as a Trojan horse, unfriendly to public schools."
Senator Alexander has in some ways been an independent voice in the Senate, willing to depart from Republican orthodoxy on matters ranging from No Child Left Behind to the question of whether states should be allowed to levy Internet taxes. But the senator seems to us somewhat off the mark with his child-grant proposal. First, what he calls "Pell Grants" is the same old school-voucher proposal by the back door: public money used to compete with public education. Secondly, it makes no sense to give President Bush a blank check in Iraq and pretend that there will be what Alexander calls "new money" left over.
We can't give this proposal -- as presently configured, anyhow -- a passing mark. n