Politics & Policy

Leaving Minority Kids Behind

Liberal flimflam on vouchers.

For the finest in liberal flimflam, listen to top Democrats discuss vouchers. Al Gore blames school vouchers for “draining away precious public dollars from our public schools, giving them to private schools that are not accountable.”

Even worse, the prospect that taxpayer dollars might indirectly finance religious entities gives hives to the voucher-allergic. “I have no idea how anyone could design a voucher system that would meet the constitutional requirements for separation between church and state,” Hillary Rodham Clinton told the United Federation of Teachers in Manhattan October 4.

But these objections drop like leaves from sycamores when it comes to other voucher programs. Liberals love vouchers outside K—12 education.

Federal Pell Grants, for instance, are vouchers for college kids. Each worth up to $3,300 annually, Pell Grants help students enroll in government schools such as UCLA and the University of Michigan. Of course, they also fund tuition at Stanford, Yale, and other private campuses.

Somehow liberals don’t squawk when a UCLA sophomore transfers to Stanford, thus draining away her Pell Grant from a government institution to a private university. In fact, Gore said in the final presidential debate that he wants “more Pell Grants for those who are in the lower-income groups.”

The Pell Grant program–fiscal 2000 taxpayer cost: $7.9 billion–also helps scholars study Catholic doctrine at Georgetown University, Mormon theology at Brigham Young and rabbinical practices at Yeshiva. Such church-state synergy seems not to bother the First Lady. She told the 1996 California Democratic convention: “We also need to increase the number and maximum award of Pell Grants.”

Democrats also favor vouchers to help the poor keep roofs over their heads. “Section 8″ vouchers let disadvantaged residents of high-rise government housing projects — such as Chicago’s Cabrini Green — use federal dollars to rent more desirable private apartments. Some 3 million households share $14 billion in Section 8 funds this year.

Again, the diversion of housing funds from government to private hands has not curbed liberal enthusiasm for this program. In fact, on October 19 the House approved a Clinton-Gore administration proposal to add $452 million to the 2001 budget for 79,000 new Section 8 vouchers. The appropriations bill containing these funds was adopted by 185 Republicans and 199 Democrats. Only two Democrats demurred.

Liberals even like child-care vouchers. “I will work to expand the Child Care and Development Block Grant to subsidize child care for nearly 150,000 more low-income children next year,” Gore declared September 9.

According to the 1998 Green Book, a House Ways and Means Committee oversight document, the $3.5 billion federal CCDBG program allows parents to “receive a certificate or voucher that can be used to purchase child care from a provider of the parents’ choice…which can include sectarian child care providers.”

Once more, such vouchers divert tax dollars that could improve government day-care centers and instead help poor parents purchase private or even faith-based child care. In fact, the Allen AME Church’s pre-school in Queens, New York has its voucher-funded three-to-five-year olds memorize verses of the Bible.

The left thus embraces vouchers that help poor people shop for competitively furnished services. They even support food stamps — essentially federal nutrition vouchers — rather than demand government-run supermarkets.

Liberals only hate vouchers that would modernize government schools that too often transform innocent Kindergartners into ignorant 12th graders lacking basic skills for citizenship or professional success. They truly fear that some voucher-empowered first-grader might flee a government school in Watts and actually learn to read at a quality Catholic academy.

Why is Democratic voucher-phobia so selective? The ugly fact is that those who provide the needy with college degrees, child care, shelter and even groceries lack political punch. Teachers’ unions, in contrast, have given $8,966,859 to Democratic candidates and campaign committees in the 1998 and 2000 election cycles, the Center for Responsive Politics reports. Meanwhile, Republicans received $324,700 from those unions — just 3.6 percent of the Democratic haul. The National Education Association’s 2.5 million members and the American Federation of Teachers’ one million rank and file are among the activists who walk precincts, staff voter phone banks and otherwise flex organized labor’s muscle, nearly always for Democrats.

Al Gore, Hillary Clinton and other Democrats need the teachers’ unions and thus continue to eat from their hands. And if poor black and Hispanic kids stay dumb because the NEA and AFT hate school vouchers, so what? To make their omelet, Democrats must crack a few eggs.

Deroy Murdock is a Manhattan-based Fox News contributor and a contributing editor of National Review Online, and a senior fellow with the London Center for Policy Research.


The Latest