Out of Control Policy Blog

Let the Money Follow Katrina's school children

In today's Washington Times, Clint Bolick makes the case that school vouchers are the most efficent and fair mechanism to get children displaced by the hurricane back into school.

Public schools across the nation, many of which already are overcrowded, have opened their doors. Many Catholic and other religious schools have accepted displaced children without charge. Congress already has appropriated $62 billion for emergency relief, but precious little will trickle down to schoolchildren. The Federal Emergency Management Agency says its funds cannot be used to hire teachers or buy books. Even worse, FEMA regulations prevent use of funds by religious relief providers.

By contrast, the 73,000 college students displaced by the storm can use their federal aid anywhere, at public, private or religious schools.

Mr. Bush can cut through this bureaucratic nonsense by issuing an executive order suspending the FEMA restrictions. In the wake of Hurricane Andrew in 1992, the elder President Bush suspended federal Davis-Bacon Act prevailing-wage requirements to ease rebuilding in southern Florida. Cutting through FEMA red tape is necessary to deliver precious educational opportunities, and the president owns the scissors. . . .

Likewise, Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Babineaux Blanco and Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour possess broad emergency powers. State funding already had been appropriated before the hurricane struck. The governors should exercise their emergency authority to ensure that the funds will follow the children to whatever schools – public, private or charter – can pick up the slack. . . .

At an average public school expense of $7,500, the cost of educating the children displaced by Hurricane Katrina would total $2.8 billion – a tiny share of the $62 billion already appropriated. If state education funds followed the children, the federal cost would be even less. Because median private-school tuition is far less than public school costs, extending such choices to displaced families would lessen the relief cost even more, while giving the children opportunities they never had but desperately need.

The bottom line is that the local, state, and federal government will pay for the educational costs of these students one way or another. School districts that have taken on a large number of students are already calling for large increases in education funding. The most efficient way to cover those costs is to attach the money to each child.

Lisa Snell is Director of Education


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