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Pin the note on the student

By Nancy Salvato
web posted October 24, 2005

Two separate bills were proposed last week, one in the House and one in the Senate, each to determine how to pay the cost of educating the victims of Hurricane Katrina. Both bills would allow funding to make its way outside the public school system. But that is where the similarity ends.

The first bill, H. R. 4097, called The Family Education Reimbursement Act, was introduced by Reps. John Boehner (R-OH) and Bobby Jindal (R-LA) on Thursday, October 20, 2005. It is an innovative and progressive bill which would, "allow families and schools to bypass existing bureaucracies" and instead follow a simple, one-time enrollment process which would establish an account of up to $6700.00 for use by each child, pre-K to 12th grade. This money would be used to reimburse any public, private, or charter school enrolling the student. "The accounts will be available to families for the duration of the 2005-2006 school year. When the school year is complete, any unused balance will be credited back to the federal Treasury. This will ensure that resources are available throughout the school year for families, while taxpayer dollars are accounted for at the program's close."

The second bill, unnumbered, is part of larger emergency recovery bill and known as "Equitable Participation". It was introduced by Sens.Ted Kennedy (D-MA) and Mike Enzi (R-WY) with Lamar Alexander (R-TN) and Christopher J. Dodd (D-CT) on Friday, October 21, 2005. It is obvious that Kennedy was playing both sides of the aisle, towing the NEA line and proposing that 2.4 billion in federal aid would be left in the hands of the public schools; while giving them the authorization to redistribute up to $6000.00 per child and $7500.00 per disabled child to public, private, or religious schools –based on the number of displaced students presently enrolled.

Although the usual suspects are screaming about both bills being vouchers because they provide public money for students to attend private schools, the contrast between their proposed applications is almost laughable if Kennedy's idea wasn't expected to be taken seriously. The difference in quality between the above proposals is strikingly similar to those introduced at the Constitutional Convention of 1787.

Madison painstakingly constructed The Virginia Plan over several months while the New Jersey Plan was slapped together in a few days. Both plans were taken under consideration when the framers of our constitution got together in Philadelphia that long summer to modify The Articles of Confederation. In the long run, The Virginia Plan; a radical departure from the stated intentions of the convention and which basically created a new constitution, was adopted over the New Jersey Plan; which would have preserved the essential nature of the Articles of Confederation, understood at that time to be ineffective. The rest is history.

The Enzi-Kennedy proposal would essentially maintain the status quo public school monopoly over education and is clearly intended to placate the NEA who circulated a letter opposing a more streamlined approach to hurricane relief and opting instead to force displaced victims to navigate the existing education bureaucracy.

Regarding that same letter, Education & the Workforce Committee Chairman John Boehner (R-OH) said, "It's disappointing that even in a time of crisis, the NEA is not willing to relinquish its stranglehold on bureaucracy and consider new ideas to meet the needs of individuals affected by these unprecedented natural disasters." The Family Education Reimbursement Act, "calls for an experienced, independent contractor to act quickly to establish a system that would reimburse schools." The money from the accounts could be used to reimburse multiple schools because it follows the child.

The Boehner bill takes into consideration that hurricane victims are still finding new places to live. Allowing the money to follow the child will ensure that all schools will get reimbursed for the time each student spends in that school. The Kennedy plan would credit schools for currently enrolled displaced students, but if some students move away and enroll in different schools, those schools would not be reimbursed for the cost of educating these transfers.

Ted Kennedy is on record stating that "This bill puts the interests of the children victimized by Katrina ahead of politics and ideological battles."

Perhaps the parents of the displaced children should pin Rep.Boehner's bill to Sen. Ted Kennedy's shirt and send him on over to the NEA headquarters. It is time that the NEA and the Education establishment stop playing power games and put the child first. In this case, putting the child first allows the money to follow the child.

Nancy Salvato is the President of The Basics Project, a non-profit, non-partisan research and educational project whose mission is to promote the education of the American public on the basic elements of relevant political, legal and social issues important to our country. Copyright © Nancy Salvato 2005

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