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Posted at 07:50 PM ET, 04/05/2011

Scary: GOP’s 2012 education priorities

This would be comical if it weren’t so serious.

At a time when public school district budgets are being slashed and there is a highly contentious national debate about how to reform failing schools, this is one of the three “major proposals” of the education proposals in the 2012 budget proposal released today by the Republican-led House Committee on the Budget: reviving a voucher program in Washington D.C. public schools.

Yes, you read that right.

The budget proposal, spearheaded by the committee chairman, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) and called “The Path to Prosperity: Restoring America’s Promise,” deals with education reform in a short section entitled, “Preparing the Workforce for a 21st Century Economy.”

Here are the three education proposals labeled as “major:

• Return Pell grants to their pre-stimulus levels to curb rising tuition inflation and make sure aid is targeted to the truly needy.

• Consolidate dozens of overlapping job-training programs into more accountable career scholarships to improve access to career development assistance and strengthen the first rung on the ladder out of poverty.

• Restore funding for the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program, giving thousands of elementary-school students in Washington, D.C. the chance at a better education and building a model of success for improving education nationwide.

The first priority takes the position that colleges increase tuition as a way to squeeze more money out of the federal government, and that the federal government seems to hand out the cash without checking an applicant’s financial status.

There has long been debate about whether colleges raise tuition to soak up more federal financial aid, but Patrick M. Callan, president of the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education, wrote in The New York Times last year that there is no real evidence that “means-tested grants are major factors in the tuition setting decisions of most colleges.”

He noted that if schools had indeed raised tuition in tandem with Pell Grant increases, then in the years when Congress did not raise the grant levels, there wouldn’t have been big tuition increases either, and, of course, there were.

Meanwhile, who can argue with consolidating overlapping job-training programs? But is it really one of the top three priorities in education funding?

And then we have the Republican obsession with the D.C. voucher program, which provided scholarships for low-income students to attend private schools, and was defunded by the last Congress.

Amid a huge budget battle in Washington that is likely to shut down the government, House Speaker John Boehner made time to champion and get the House to pass legislation to fund the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program.

Boehner has made clear that the program is important to him, because, according to a story by my Post colleagues Ben Pershing and Paul Kane, he credits Catholic schools with helping him become the most powerful member of Congress, and wants to give low-income D.C. kids a chance to have the same chance.

The Republican budget proposal calls the program important because it can serve as a “model of success for improving education nationwide,” hardly a way for failing public school districts to improve themselves.

The fact that the one K-12 reform measure mentioned as a top priority in the document is reviving the voucher program makes it very clear what the Republican vision of public education is today: Education that isn’t public.

That’s some kind of scary.

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By  |  07:50 PM ET, 04/05/2011

 
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