Tuesday, January 29, 2008

State of the Union Calls For Extension of School Choice and Charitable Choice

Among the laundry list of proposals in President Bush's State of the Union Message (full text) last night were these:

We must also do more to help children when their schools do not measure up. Thanks to the D.C. Opportunity Scholarships you approved, more than 2,600 of the poorest children in our Nation's Capital have found new hope at a faith-based or other non-public school. Sadly, these schools are disappearing at an alarming rate in many of America's inner cities. So I will convene a White House summit aimed at strengthening these lifelines of learning. And to open the doors of these schools to more children, I ask you to support a new $300 million program called Pell Grants for Kids....

In communities across our land, we must trust in the good heart of the American people and empower them to serve their neighbors in need. Over the past seven years, more of our fellow citizens have discovered that the pursuit of happiness leads to the path of service. Americans have volunteered in record numbers. Charitable donations are higher than ever. Faith-based groups are bringing hope to pockets of despair, with newfound support from the federal government. And to help guarantee equal treatment of faith-based organizations when they compete for federal funds, I ask you to permanently extend Charitable Choice.

In today's New York Times, two former officials in the White House Office of Faith Based and Community Initiatives published an op-ed supporting Bush's call for making the Faith Based Initiative permanent. However David Kuo and John J. DiIulio, Jr. criticized the slow growth and the focus of the present program:

The initiative ... was designed so that small congregations and ministries that had long served needy neighbors on shoestring budgets — and not just large, national religious charities — could get their fair share of government aid. It did not happen. The number of faith-based organizations receiving a federal grant rose from 665 in 2002 to only 762 in 2004.... Over the past six years, federal grants to faith-based programs have shifted away from the local "armies of compassion" praised by Mr. Bush and toward large, national organizations with religious affiliations.