Under Cover of Katrina, Bush Advances Right-Wing School Voucher Plan

President’s attempt to implement largest-ever school voucher program is only one of the divisive policies he is advocating in hurricane’s aftermath

The Bush Administration has proposed spending $488 million on private school vouchers for evacuees from hurricane Katrina. This would be by far the largest federally funded voucher program in our nation’s history, and it would do little to help the victims of Katrina, said People For the American Way President Ralph G. Neas.

“Federal funding should go to public schools in the affected areas, and to schools across the country taking in hurricane evacuees, not toward creating a controversial voucher program for students already enrolled in private schools,” Neas said. “But it appears as though President Bush wants to exploit this national tragedy to implement an ideological agenda. The victims of Katrina need our help, and they deserve to be treated with dignity, not treated like guinea pigs in a massive experiment for a dubious education proposal.”

Education policy experts have identified a wide variety of problems with the President’s voucher plan. Public schools are already accepting the overwhelming majority of displaced students, but they would be ineligible to receive the proposed voucher funds. Also, many of the private schools that could receive these funds could be ill-equipped to provide the comprehensive services that hurricane victims may need, including mental health services, counseling, free and reduced meals, and after school care—all services that public schools provide.

According to the American Association of School Administrators, private schools in many places, including Mississippi, are simply not an option for hurricane victims, as the parochial schools there are already filled to capacity. Indeed, in the aftermath of the hurricane, public schools have been enrolling displaced private school students.

“It makes no sense to divert funds from public schools that are enrolling hurricane victims, just to make President Bush’s far-right political backers happy. This is bad policy, and it is playing politics with people’s lives,” Neas said. “Sadly, this isn’t the only area where the President is playing politics. He has already used the hurricane as an excuse to try to gut prevailing wage standards, roll back environmental protections, waive affirmative action requirements, and cut taxes for the wealthy while deficits skyrocket. What’s next? A special Social Security privatization zone?”

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