The Voucher Gulf…And Ds, If It Is Not A Hook, Don’t Take The Bait

A few more thoughts on the Bush hurricane voucher proposal. Upon more reflection not sure Ds are in a noose they can’t slip or that there is not a middle ground here.

Most people would agree that the primary goal here should be minimizing additional disruption for impacted kids and getting them in school as soon as possible, no? That ought to be the basic principle here which means that concerns that normally bear on a policy change like this can be suspended. In other words, if helping these kids immediately involves non-public schools in the short run, it’s not that big a deal if the Democrats don’t make it one. It’s an extraordinary situation and Zelman does apply in terms of the constitutional question. However, such a program should be neither long nor large and should be well targeted. Like John Roberts, it should stress modesty.

And, as more details become clear (though limiting it to one year is a step in the right direction) in the actual legislation, that seems like a reasonable benchmark to ascertain if the administration is serious about helping these kids and not playing politics on school vouchers. If compassionate, any initiative will be modest, targeted, and temporary. If conservative, it will try to establish some sort of beachhead for school vouchers and that qualifies as using this disaster to advance their agenda. Fortunately, there is a wide gulf in policy between a genuine relief effort and a political gambit, let’s see if the administration respects it.

A modest and brief program here should set no precedent because the imperatives of public policy (school finance, accountability, etc…) in the wake of an emergency are markedly different than how a broader policy should be designed. By making that point now rather than turning this into a fight over vouchers Ds can sidestep the precedent trap later. If, however, the administration is up to some political mischief here, D’s better get out in front and explain to the public why. Otherwise this has that ’02 Homeland Security vibe…

It would be more encouraging, however, if the administration either had more specifics or any sort of analysis in terms of how many displaced kids are using or are likely to use non-public schools in the short run. For instance, how did they arrive at this $488 million figure beyond some rough guess based on the number of LA kids who were in private schools (a higher percent than the national average it should be noted) prior to the storm? Right now they do sort of give off the sense that they came up with their preferred solution before they figured out and worked the problem…and the salivating and “national experiment” talk from spokespeople for the Catholic schools doesn’t inspire confidence either…

Worth noting two things. First, most kids will be in public schools so flexibility on funds is going to be important there, the admin has proposals on that and, second, the Senate HELP Committee has put together a sensible bill on K-12 and higher-ed that touches a lot of important bases of relief. Can’t find a link online though, sorry.

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