Speculation has always been that Ed Secretary Spellings sort of has it in for charter schools. Conservatives have never trusted her (or for that matter the President) on choice overall. Meanwhile, charter supporters mostly consider her lukewarm at best on public charter schools. She’s more about systemic accountability. And remember, she cut her teeth at the Texas Association of School Boards — not a hotbed of charter school fans. Now it’s last night’s “Pell Grants for Kids” proposal that lends credence to the argument that she’s not big on choice. The proposal itself doesn’t stand too much of a chance legislatively. But, a serious voucher proposal could open up the debate about school choice and perhaps lead to an expansion of federal support for public charter schooling and new public school creation as a middle-ground position. That, of course, would be fine with me.
Instead, by linking vouchers to declining Catholic school enrollment Bush and Spellings may have sabotaged any chance at compromise. By raising expectations in the Catholic school community that they might be able to get some federal relief for their schools, that constituency now sees some real purchase in this debate. But Democrats will not sign onto any proposal that includes a lot of public aid to Catholic schools. That much harder to get to any compromise…especially because Catholic leaders see public charters as a big part of their problem (it’s more likely just one part (pdf)) in the first place.