Friday, September 23, 2005

Vouching for the Short Term

In the midst of discussions on ways to move the recovery from Hurricane Katrina forward, the Bush administration has proposed a laundry list of possible programs and changes that they claim would help in returning New Orleans and other affected areas to their previous economic strength. While the intentions of those formulating these proposals are good, and their goal of getting the region back on its feet are admirable, we must be very wary of proposals that push ideological and political positions instead of those that would bring about the most broad-based economic support.

Foremost among these ideological proposals is to provide students with vouchers, allowing them to attend private schools and to have the government pay for their tuition. Aside from clearly conflicting with the separation of church and state, since many of the private schools that would be receiving federal money are religious schools, the proposal is a blatant political ploy by the Bush administration to use the disaster as a way to achieve a goal that it has thus far been unsuccessful at. Since 2001, Congress has repeatedly denied the President the opportunity to get a voucher program passed, much to its credit.

Voucher programs are detrimental to public education and a wide variety of well-respected organizations disagree with the idea on various grounds. The National Parent Teacher Association, the Anti-Defamation League, and the NAACP all stand opposed to school voucher programs.

Hurricane Katrina is a disaster beyond what most of us who do not live in the area can comprehend. Countless houses and schools have been damaged or destroyed, and the basic way of life in southern Louisiana has been changed forever. We need to help the people of the region rebuild their lives, their homes, and their schools. But we cannot neglect the next generation of students and destroy the foundation that public education provides for so many students around the country. School vouchers divert money from public education and put it in the pockets of private, often religious schools, something that goes against one of our basic principles of government.

On Tuesday, the Washington Post published an article on the school vouchers proposal. Here are two quotes from the article:

"It makes it even worse," Paul Houston, executive director of the American Association of School Administrators, said of the idea that all displaced families could obtain money for private schools. "It is really a tone-deaf response to the crisis. It is a real grab to get an ideological position across that they haven't been able to achieve under normal circumstances."

Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (Mass.), ranking Democrat on the Senate's Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, said, "Instead of reopening ideological battles, we should be focused on reopening schools and getting people the help that they need."

To read the rest of the article, here is a link to it.

This needs to be exposed as exactly what it is: an attempt by the Bush administration, panicking over extremely low approval ratings, and trying to get an extremely controversial program pushed through Congress in order to claim any victory they can by any means necessary.