More School Vouchers, Fewer Programs

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

President Bush would freeze the Education Department's discretionary spending at $59.2 billion, cutting or consolidating dozens of programs while expanding school vouchers and restoring funding for a No Child Left Behind reading initiative that Democratic lawmakers slashed.

The budget would add $300 million for Pell Grants for Kids, a new voucher program aimed at giving low-income students in struggling schools aid to help them switch to private schools. It also would provide $1 billion for Reading First, up from the $393 million that Congress appropriated for the current fiscal year. The reading program has been beset by allegations of conflicts of interest.

Some Democrats and education groups contended that the budget would shortchange schools of money needed to carry out the six-year-old No Child Left Behind law and such other priorities as career and technical education. Democrats also attacked the voucher proposal.

Education Secretary Margaret Spellings said the budget would cut "ineffective" and duplicative programs to allow a nearly 3 percent increase in funding for poor schools. The budget would nearly double, to $200 million, funding to help states and localities develop teacher merit-pay plans. It also would add $2.6 billion to Pell Grants for low-income college students, raising the maximum award to $4,800.

-- Maria Glod

© 2008 The Washington Post Company