In delivering catastrophic destruction, hurricanes like the one named Katrina that slammed into the Gulf Coast recently do not discriminate between children who attend public schools and those who attend private schools.
Should government discriminate in its efforts to make hurricane victims whole again? Apparently the National Education Association, the 2.7-million-member teachers union, and its political allies believe the answer is “yes.”
In a press release, NEA president Reg Weaver panned President Bush’s stated intention of including private-school families as participants in a $1.9 billion education recovery plan. Weaver labeled that a “flawed and divisive” voucher plan “that undermines public education.”
The Bush Administration has not yet made clear exactly in what manner (whether vouchers or some other means) the aid would be dispensed to displaced public and private school families. However, groups such as People for the American Way and the American Association of University Women are echoing the NEA in calling for relief efforts to include public schools only, a policy that effectively would exclude thousands of private and parochial school students from help unless they switched to government-controlled education.
Do the NEA officials and their fellow Big Education lobbyists care about the preferences and needs of displaced families as they seek the best possible schooling for their children?
In the four Louisiana parishes most severely affected by Hurricane Katrina, 32 percent of all K-12 students (61,000 out of 187,000) were attending private schools, a figure far exceeding the 11 percent private-school enrollment nationally. As they pick up the pieces of their lives, many displaced families already are choosing private schools where they can find them, according to U.S. Department of Education officials.
The effect of Congress enacting an exclusionary policy pushed by the NEA would be to force thousands of these families into public schools, no matter how crowded they might be or how ill-suited their curricula might be for particular students.
That would serve to make the education monopoly (of which the NEA is a major part) more formidable, but it is questionable how such a stance would help children.
Congress has acted on a bipartisan basis in recent years to approve tax-break initiatives such as Education Savings Accounts that help families choose either public or private schools. Why should compulsion now be preferable to choice as the official policy for families who have had so much sorrow and suffering visited upon them by one of the worst natural disasters in the nation’s history?
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