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The GI Bills, Models for K-12
By David W. Kirkpatrick (August 07, 2008)
Senior Education Fellow
U.S. Freedom Foundation www.freedomfoundation.us

         The federal government recently enacted the latest version of a GI Bill, the first of which became law in June of 1944.  Passing the House 387-0 and the Senate 50-0 it was in effect until 1956, and in its peak year, 1947, almost 50 percent of college students were veterans. That bill paid for tuition, fees, and incidental charges and even provided a monthly stipend.  Economists have estimated that the average veteran subsequently paid from two to eight times in income taxes what he or she received in education benefits.
         Nearly 8,000,000 World War II veterans took advantage of the program. While the perception is that all of them attended a college or university - and by one tally 2,230,000 did, including 65,000 of 265,000 women veterans -  3,480,000 attended other institutions, including private, for-profit proprietary schools.  This writer attended such a school, an electronics trade school in Boston, and only later obtained undergraduate and graduate degrees.
         One summary reported that veterans attended 481 nonsectarian, 474 Protestant, 265 Catholic, and five Jewish institutions of higher learning, in addition to state colleges or universities (that is, more religious than secular institutions and more private than public).   36,000 veterans studied to become members of the clergy.
          Another 1,400,000 were involved in on-the-job training, while 690,000 were enrolled in on-the-farm training. Instruction was obtained in such areas as sheet metal, tool and die, steam fitting, auto mechanics, tire retreading, and even tap dancing.
         By the time the WWII GI Bill expired in 1956, college-educated veterans included 238,000 teachers, 91,000 scientists; 67,000 doctors; 45,000 engineers, and 22,000 dentists, all of whom had exercised their individual choice; no veteran was assigned to a particular school or educational program.
         As for the argument that public schools will be damaged by choice/voucher programs, at the time the GI Bill was instituted, about  80% of college students attended private institutions and 20% public ones.  Today the ratio is reversed, 80% public and 20% private.
         The feared excessive regulations didn't develop either.  Basically it had to be determined that the veteran served, was honorably discharged, and was in actual attendance in a recognized program. These millions of veterans were served by a relatively small Veterans Bureau in Washington.
         The original GI Bill proved to be a win-win for everyone. It was so obviously successful that millions of other veterans have taken advantage of subsequent versions in 1952, 1966, 1976, and 1984. More will undoubtedly do so with the new law.
         The original GI Bill ranks near or at the top as one of the most important laws ever passed by Congress.  Ironically, as with the present debate over publicly funded choice in basic education, there were those in the higher education establishment who argued against its passage in 1944.  It was said that the colleges were already serving those with the ability to take advantage of them, or that the older more worldly GIs would be out of place on campuses with 18-22 year-olds and might cause negative consequences.
         Some say a program providing post-secondary educational experiences is not comparable to one using vouchers for students in basic education.  However, most WWII GIs were not high school graduates and many used their benefits to obtain high school diplomas from both religious and public high schools.
         Finally, this, in which "vouchers" could substitute for "the GI Bill," because the concept is the same:
         "In 1994 our Association issued a report detailing the educational backgrounds of the World War II GIs.  It showed that one out of every three had less than an eighth-grade education, one in six had less than a fourth-grade education, and only 40 percent had completed high school ... In all, 8 million of 12 million veterans took advantage of the GI Bill.  The program ended up costing, in today's dollars, $119 billion...The GI Bill turned out to be one of the wisest investments the United States had ever made,"  then-National Education Association  President Keith Geiger's speaking to its convention in Minneapolis, July 3-6, 1995.
         The original GI Bill demonstrated that funding education by choice is more effective than funding institutions. Gradual implementation of the concept for K-12 students is occurring, and long overdue.

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         "Our national experience with the GI Bill should help us examine effects of a voucher program...Many of the arguments being raised against vouchers were also used against the GI Bill.  The idea worked well then, and it is worth considering now."  Joe Nathan, pp 147-89, Free To Teach, NY: The Pilgrim Press, 1983

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Copyright 2008 David W. Kirkpatrick
108 Highland Court,
Douglassville, Pennsylvania 19518-9240
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