Statement of PFAW President Ralph G. Neas on the Senate’s Katrina school vouchers bill

People For the American Way opposes the Senate bill that would create the largest private school voucher program in the nation’s history. The legislation authorizes a massive allocation of federal funds to private schools -- funds that could be better used to help public schools deal with the challenges created by Hurricane Katrina.

While provisions that attempt to protect civil rights have been included in the bill, we have grave concerns that the bill could result in the unconstitutional federal funding of discrimination. For example, private schools receiving federal funds could discriminate against teachers based on their religious beliefs.

There is a better alternative to help public and private school students affected by the hurricane. The Senate can and should use an already-existing mechanism called "equitable participation," which would hold private schools accountable for the use of public funds, as well as resolve any constitutional questions. Equitable participation puts control over the use of funds in the hands of local school districts, and since equitable participation involves direct aid, federal anti-discrimination protections apply.

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