When President Bush proposed “Pell Grants for Kids” recently, he added another entry into the dictionary of creative names for school choice programs.
Just last year, the president proposed “Promise Scholarships” to award federal aid to students in low-performing school that they could redeem at private or public schools. Both ideas are modeled after the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship program, which the Bush administration lobbied Congress to create in 2003.
Opponents say the different monikers are just fancy names for private school vouchers.
In a statement responding to the “Pell Grant” proposal, which Mr. Bush announced during his Jan. 28 State of the Union address, People for the American Way used “vouchers” five times in a three paragraphs.
The war of words began in the 1990s when GOP polling discovered that the public doesn’t like the term vouchers. Voters associate them with undeserved handouts.
Republicans offered creative names for private-school-choice plans when the president’s father ran for re-election in 1992. President George H.W. Bush called his plan to provide $1,000 grants for poor children to use at a school of choice the “GI Bill for Children.”
“GI Bull,” retorted Albert Shanker, then the president of the American Federation of Teachers, who died in 1997.
In 1996, the Republican nominee for president, former Sen. Bob Dole of Kansas, named his school choice program “opportunity scholarships.” That name carried over to program for low-income students in the District of Columbia.
President Bush’s latest proposal would appropriate the name of the largest federal college-aid program, which was renamed for former Sen. Claiborne Pell, D-R.I. Mr. Pell had played a significant role in the program’s creation and in other education policies as a senator from 1961 to 1997.
Despite the varied names, the Republicans’ choice proposals haven’t been popular in Congress. Only the “opportunity scholarships” for District of Columbia students has become law.
A version of this article appeared in the February 13, 2008 edition of Education Week