Caesar Meets the Media

Not sure what that title means, but it went through my head when I saw the following. Not sure if others are keeping abreast of the gummit’s desire to give vouchers to private schools for helping with displaced Katrina folk, but this fella from People for the American Way was not impressed:

Don’t subsidize religion
If private schools get public money, they need to be held accountable.
By Ralph G. Neas

Senators about to pass an education package in response to Hurricane Katrina could make a huge mistake by creating what would be the largest private-school vouchers program in the nation’s history.

Right-wing special interest groups see Katrina as an opportunity to implement an ideological agenda that has little to do with the hurricane itself. One aspect of this opportunism is the insistence that education relief include a vouchers program to send massive federal funding to private schools.

Here’s what’s wrong with this proposal:
•First, public money should be used to support public schools that have taken in Katrina evacuees and the rebuilding of schools devastated by the hurricane. Instead, the proposal would funnel hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars into private schools’ bank accounts. And it could subsidize private education for the wealthiest students.

•Second, by allocating federal funds to religious institutions, the vouchers plan would undermine the First Amendment’s separation of church and state. The current Senate bill includes no effective oversight that would hold schools accountable for violating bans on the use of taxpayer dollars to support religious indoctrination.

•Third, while provisions to protect civil rights have been included in the bill, it is not clear that the bill would prevent the unconstitutional use of federal tax dollars to fund discrimination. In particular, the bill would allow private schools to use federal dollars to discriminate in hiring based on religion.

There is an alternative, constitutional way to support students who have relied on services provided by private schools called “equitable participation,” which would clearly and unambiguously hold private schools accountable for the use of public funds, as well as resolve any constitutional questions.

We believe some senators with long records of supporting public education are considering support for new voucher provisions because they believe such provisions are the unfortunate cost of winning Senate approval for the urgent relief needed by families and school systems affected by the recent hurricanes. We support that relief, but it should not be held hostage to voucher proponents.

Ralph G. Neas is president of People for the American Way.

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