I’ve mentioned before that President Bush’s recovery plan includes education vouchers, but, as this article makes clear, the scope of his proposal is larger than first indicated: if the President has his way, vouchers will go, not just to families whose kids were in private and religious schools before Katrina, but to any displaced family that wants to take that option now.
In fact, the president does not even have to try to imitate how liberals behave to come up with good ideas to help poor Americans improve their lives. Some of the market-friendly conservative ideas on his agenda show a lot of promise in helping poor folks in New Orleans and elsewhere rebuild their lives.
For example, nothing helps you build a better life more than a good education . Where there is space in good schools, public or private, the government should give the parents of New Orleans’ 77,000 displaced public school students full tuition vouchers so they can enroll their children in better schools.
The education vouchers, meanwhile, make private school available to kids who had suffered in the atrocious New Orleans public system and help preserve the choice many families had already made. Out of 248,000 students in the broader New Orleans area, 61,000 went to private schools. Opponents of the voucher proposals want to say to bereft families of those private-school students, "Congratulations, you lost everything, and we hope your children now get trapped in public schools on top of it."
I support it for the reasons they offer, and for one other as well: by leveraging private resources (those of the schools and families involved), it actually saves states and localities money. The voucher proposal offers up to $7,500 (90% of the state’s average per pupil expenditure), exactly the same as the impact aid. In the case of students attending public schools, the states and localities have to make up the difference. In the case of private and religious schools, either the families or the schools will cover the balance. In other words, as they always have, education vouchers empower recipients and save taxpayers money. And because the money follows the students, the per capita public school budget is in no way affected. Who could oppose this? (A rhetorical question: we know who can and will oppose it.)
Update: Katie Newmark (one of my best sources on voucher issues) has more.
Update #2: This WaPo editorial offers a limited endorsement of voucher plans, but suggests that maybe they shouldn’t be called vouchers. The reasoning behind the support is that individual cases require individual responses, which is, of course, true of every student everywhere all the time. The camels nose is peeking in.