- The Washington Times - Friday, October 28, 2005

A House committee yesterday rejected a proposal that would have reimbursed schools, including private religious schools, that have taken in students displaced from Hurricane Katrina.

The measure was defeated in a 26-21 vote after Democrats on the Education and the Workforce Committee said it was a backdoor attempt to create a religious-schools voucher system, using the storm as an excuse.

“It’s disappointing that our proposal, which I believe offered the most efficient and effective form of education aid to families and children impacted by this tragedy, was unsuccessful,” said panel Chairman John A. Boehner, the Ohio Republican who crafted the measure.

“This proposal represented a significant departure from the status quo, and I strongly believe that parents and children would have benefited most directly from an approach that focused on their individual needs,” he said.

The bill would have given displaced parents federal account numbers that they could pass along to any school they choose for their children, including private religious schools. The school then would apply directly to the government and be reimbursed up to $6,700 per student for the 2005-06 school year.

Republicans said this was the speediest way to get help to schools, prekindergarten through 12th grade, that are educating some of the 300,000-plus students displaced by the storm.

But Democrats said it was a sneaky attempt to create vouchers.

“We are about to use the misery of evacuees of Katrina as an excuse to implement a partisan political program,” said Rep. Major R. Owens, New York Democrat. “Through the back door … we are going to implement a voucher system.”

“This is public school money. It shouldn’t be funding religious education,” said Rep. Robert C. Scott, Virginia Democrat.

Four Republicans joined the Democrats in voting no — Reps. Judy Biggert of Illinois, Todd R. Platts of Pennsylvania, Bob Inglis of South Carolina and John R. “Randy” Kuhl Jr. of New York.

Republicans said it simply was the best way to cut through red tape and provide flexibility to displaced families, many of which are moving to different towns, and that Democrats preferred to rely on government bureaucrats.

“You have no faith in the parents, it seems,” said Rep. Virginia Foxx, North Carolina Republican.

The panel will reconvene today to consider a retooled proposal from Mr. Boehner that would scrap the parent-controlled account-number system and allow schools — public or private — to apply directly to the secretary of education for the reimbursement.

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