Katrina, Kennedy and School Vouchers
Last week Senator Edward Kennedy killed a proposal by President Bush which would have given victims of Hurricane Katrina up to $7,500 per student to use in the schools of their choice. The proposal was significant because 25% of students in the region affected by Katrina attend private schools, and of these about 81% (50,000 students) are in Catholic schools.
Kennedy caused this provision to be dropped from a federal relief package because “this is not the time for a partisan political debate on vouchers.” In other words, Kennedy saw clearly that to admit the voucher concept even in an emergency relief package would bring a widespread voucher system a significant step closer to reality. The Catholic Senator from Massachusetts was not about to allow that to happen.
Education in America is admittedly an extremely complex topic. In an ideal world, government would not control education, but in a culture which maintains a determined hope that universal education will be the key to an essentially classless society, it is difficult to see a way of eliminating government entirely. However, the dilemma is not primarily that all taxpayers must support a school infrastructure that only some of them use. The real issue is that public schools form students in a secular humanist value system which a large number of Americans explicitly reject.
In the midst of these conflicting tensions, vouchers are the best thing on offer. The value of vouchers is that they strengthen education while weakening government’s grip on it. Voucher proposals have the great virtue of shifting the battleground from education itself to educational ideology. It is for this reason that Kennedy’s consistent opposition to vouchers, even in an emergency, reveals once again a secular commitment that can only embarrass the Church he claims to call his own. His opposition is, in effect, an ideological statement.
Bush’s proposal had the appearance of a charitable act. In contrast, Kennedy’s rejection of it can only be construed as a partisan political act performed at a singularly bad time.
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