Ed Week’s Usually Reliable turns in an early and important story on the goings on about the “Hurricane Vouchers” issue. Key takeaway is buried, Senator Dodd signaling his support for some arrangement (he’s not the only one) and Senator Landrieu floating a compromise.
But, in the precedent setting department, isn’t direct general aid for non-public schools more of a precedent than giving money to parents? According to the article, that seems to be the compromise some of the school groups are now signaling they could live with. But aren’t they actually setting themselves up here? They fear giving money to parents, but that doesn’t really plow new ground as policy or a church-state issue, especially considering the exceptional circumstances here and if it is a one-year initiative. However, regardless of how long it flowed, more generalized aid would go beyond the settled issues about specific aid for secular purposes and plow new ground (besides, it’s not great policy and cuts against the grain of what the voucher crowd has said they’re about for a long time…).
As to what Democrats should do? A bunch of different pieces of advice and strategery from readers but rather than dump them all on you, they can pretty much be grouped under the three approaches voiced by readers below:
Sherman Dorn writes:
Combine Kennedy’s first-impression “let’s not play partisan games” approach with a strict “let’s make sure that the money is accounted-for” approach. The advantage of going through public schools is that they already have to account for the cash they receive, and they’re set up for it (or at least they’re supposed to be). What we know from the history of Florida’s voucher programs, esp. the corporate tax-credit scheme, is that neither clearinghouses nor private organizations can be trusted to even count kids properly without significant oversight. Who has the burden of oversight if funds go to private groups? It’ll inevitably be the states.
“This will be one more unfunded mandates on states, to oversee private schools to make sure the money is accounted for properly, at a time when state departments of education will already be stretched to accommodate the Katrina survivors in public schools. This is unfair to states and unfair to taxpayers of those states. If there’s one thing states don’t need, it’s another burden at this time.”
Jim Stegall of Monroe, NC writes:
Here’s a novel idea–Give them the vouchers and get the hell out of the way! This is nothing more than pure common sense. Government can’t provide the needed services (education) at the moment, so contract for them like you would for anything else. Oh, and Senator Kennedy, it’s only a political issue if YOU and your friends make it one!
And, a reader writes:
These kids come from a state that spends little on education and are among the most disadvantaged in that state. They will start out well behind and will have all sorts of problems that will make it hard for them to catch up.
Democrats should “jump on” this train — insisting only that those using vouchers to attend private or parochial schools take the same year-end state tests as other students. They’ll score incredibly low and vouchers will seem to have failed. There’s no need to disaggregate the scores of transferee students from those in regular public schools, however, since doing so might show stronger performance among voucher users.
Update: Jenny D weighs-in.