Cut Subsidies to Pay for Vouchers, Says McCain

Published November 1, 1999

As if his advocacy of school vouchers hadn’t made him enough enemies in the teacher unions, GOP Presidential hopeful Senator John McCain stirred up even more in a recent speech to veterans. McCain proposed paying for his voucher program by slashing federal subsidies not only on ethanol but also on oil, gas, and sugar.

Last year, McCain’s bill to fund school vouchers by cutting subsidies on ethanol production failed in the U.S. Senate.

“We give hundreds of millions of dollars in subsidies to the producers of ethanol, to oil and gas and sugar manufacturers who are wealthy beyond the dreams of most hard-working Americans,” declared McCain in a September 28 speech in South Carolina, a day after he had formally announced his bid for the GOP Presidential nomination. “I challenge my opponents to join me in taking the money that we’ve been giving to the special interests and spend it instead on a child in need.”

McCain’s creation of a new funding source for vouchers–paid by special interests rather than individual taxpayers–shrewdly allays two key concerns that voucher opponents have raised in the minds of the average citizen: That vouchers will mean spending even more money on education, and that vouchers will “drain” tax dollars from underfunded government-run schools.

Regardless of whether these concerns are valid, McCain’s proposal addresses them head-on. His plan provides a new pool of tax dollars to pay for students to attend private or religious schools, while continuing to provide financial support for government-run schools in transition.

“Let’s take that money and, instead of using it to pay off campaign contributors with special tax breaks, let’s spend it on the children who have been trapped in our worst schools,” said the Arizona senator, a former Navy pilot who was imprisoned and tortured during five years as a prisoner of war in Vietnam. “Let’s take the money and use it to set children free, to give them an educational opportunity that can provide them with a real future.”

The previous day, when McCain announced his candidacy, he spoke of the need to fix a broken political system where Congress treated taxpayers’ money “like lottery winnings.” Nowhere were the stakes greater than in the education of our children, he said, proposing merit pay and competency testing for teachers, and returning control of education to parents and teachers. He called for a nationwide test of vouchers, saying “It’s time to democratize education.”

“Our children deserve the best education we can provide to them, whether that learning takes place in a public, private, or parochial school.” declared McCain. “It’s time to give middle- and lower-income parents the same right wealthier families have–to send their child to the school that best meets their needs.”