Big Hike Approved for GI Bill Vouchers

Published August 1, 2001

In stark contrast to the rigid rejection that even very modest K-12 voucher proposals have met from Democratic lawmakers on Capitol Hill, the U.S. House of Representatives on June 19 voted unanimously–416-0–to approve a huge increase in a popular college-level voucher program: The G.I. Bill. This 57-year-old program is one of 11 federal voucher programs that encounter little or no opposition from Democrats.

The House vote increased federal educational benefits to veterans by 70 percent–from $23,400 to $39,600–at a cost of $9 billion over 10 years.

Illinois Congressman Lane Evans wanted an even larger increase: $24 billion over 10 years. Evans joined most other Democrats in rejecting two amendments that would have restored K-12 school choice to President George W. Bush’s school reform package, H.R. 1. One amendment was defeated 155-273, the other 186-241.

School Vouchers Work

It was on June 22, 1944 that President Franklin Roosevelt signed into law the largest and most successful voucher program in history: the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act of 1944, otherwise known as the G.I. Bill. It opened the door of higher education to millions of Americans who otherwise would never have received a college degree, it reduced discrimination, and it spurred the growth of the post-war peace-time economy.

The G.I. Bill allowed returning veterans to use publicly funded vouchers to pay for education and training at the institution of their choice, religious or secular, public or private.

While the intent of the bill was to provide education and other benefits to 19 million returning veterans, its effect over the next decade was to revolutionize American society in a variety of ways. For example, colleges that had awarded degrees to 160,000 graduates in 1940 suddenly were faced with a huge expansion, teaching 2,328,000 students in 1947 as 2 million returning G.I.s chose to pursue higher education.

Whereas college in pre-war days had been regarded as just for “teachers’ kids or preachers’ kids,” the G.I. Bill opened higher education to all–including those who previously had been discriminated against. Quotas restricting admission of Jews and Catholics disappeared as schools were swamped with veterans. Previously all-white colleges admitted African-Americans. In fact, one-third of veterans at college between 1946 and 1950 were black; many went on to become leaders in the civil rights movement.

“The pursuit of higher education became considered normal for everyone, whether they were white or black; Jewish, Catholic, or Protestant; male or female,” notes Stephanie Swanson in a recent study of the effects of the G.I. Bill in The Concord Review.

Swanson points out the G.I. Bill also was instrumental in expanding the middle class in America beyond its previous predominance by white Protestants, making it accessible to people of other racial, ethnic, and religious backgrounds. As the number of blue-collar workers decreased by 4 million after WWII, the number of white-collar workers increased by 10 million. The result of the G.I. Bill was “the American Dream come true,” said political historian Milton Greenburg.