School Choice & Charters

House Panel Rejects Education Accounts for Hurricane Aid

By Michelle R. Davis — November 01, 2005 4 min read

A Republican plan to send hurricane aid to both public and private schools was defeated unexpectedly last week in the House education committee, after coming under attack as a voucher program in disguise.

Four Republicans sided with 22 Democrats on the House Education and the Workforce Committee on Oct. 27 to reject the plan to use “family education reimbursement accounts” to funnel money to schools taking in students displaced by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, which hit the Gulf Coast in August and September. The vote was 26-21 against the bill.

After the vote, Rep. John A. Boehner, D-Ohio, the committee’s chairman and a sponsor of the bill, proposed an alternative plan in the hope of appeasing committee members. The new plan would allow regular public, public charter, and private schools to apply directly to the U.S. secretary of education to receive reimbursement for educating hurricane-displaced students. The committee did not act on the second plan last week.

Rep. Boehner’s original plan would have authorized giving parents education accounts amounting to $6,700 per student in most cases, and $8,200 for students in special education. The money in the accounts, which would have been authorized only for the current school year, would follow displaced students to the schools of their parents’ choice—public, charter, or private, including religious schools. Parents would register their children through a toll-free telephone number, be provided a personal-identification number, and then give that number to the school, which would use it to collect the federal payment.

But during a feisty discussion of the plan, Democrats on the education panel clearly considered it a form of tuition voucher—an idea that their party and public school groups generally oppose.

“If it looks like a duck, walks like a duck, and quacks like a duck, then I don’t know what else it could be except a duck,” said Rep. Danny K. Davis, D-Ill. “I don’t know what else this could be except a way to inject vouchers into the public arena.”

Plan B

After the committee voted against Rep. Boehner’s plan, the chairman floated his backup plan of direct grants to schools from the Department of Education to cover the expenses of educating displaced children, using the same per-pupil cost estimates as his earlier proposal.

“It’s unfortunate that even in a time of national emergency, the education establishment refuses to consider new ideas to meet the needs of students, families, and individual schools affected by these unprecedented natural disasters,” Mr. Boehner said in a statement.

Some Republicans had vigorously denied any ulterior motives in putting forward the original $2.5 billion plan, which also included authorization of $50 million for the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act, saying the accounts would give private schools the opportunity to be repaid for taking in hurricane-displaced students and would end after one year.

“There’s no mechanism in place for federal dollars to get to private or parochial schools,” Mr. Boehner said. “The money would flow directly, at the parents’ decision, from the Department of Education to the private school.”

Democrats had other concerns about the proposal, including what they viewed as a lack of accountability for how the money would be used in private schools, a new layer of bureaucracy, and opportunities for fraud.

But Rep. Sam Johnson, R-Texas, noted that under the bill, a private company would be hired to monitor the disbursement of funds, and that the program would be closely scrutinized.

Rep. George Miller of California, the ranking Democrat on the education committee, called it cumbersome.

“You’re depending on the parent calling in on a timely basis,” he said, adding that “the idea that the answer to this problem almost 90 days [after Hurricane Katrina] is 1-800-voucher, just doesn’t hold.”

Some committee Republicans also objected to elements of Rep. Boehner’s bill. Rep. Judy Biggert, R-Ill., expressed concern that the parental accounts were akin to vouchers, and would set a dangerous precedent.

“I’m disturbed we couldn’t find some way to get money to children desperately in need of it other than through that program,” said Ms. Biggert, who voted against the bill. The other GOP members who voted against the proposal were Reps. Bob Inglis of South Carolina, Todd R. Platts of Pennsylvania, and John R. “Randy” Kuhl Jr. of New York.

No Consensus

Rep. Miller, along with Rep. Lynn Woolsey, D-Calif., introduced a substitute proposal that would have authorized $4 billion for schools directly damaged by Hurricane Katrina, and it would have authorized $8,314 per student to districts taking in displaced students. The schools, including private schools, would have applied directly to the Education Department for payment. The plan was defeated on a 25-21 party-line vote.

Meanwhile, in the Senate, a bipartisan plan for hurricane-related aid to schools that supporters had hoped would easily sweep through last week stalled after being assailed by groups of various ideological stripes.

The bill, sponsored by Sen. Michael B. Enzi, R-Wyo., the chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, and its ranking member, Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass., would authorize providing school districts taking in displaced students with quarterly installment payments, up to $6,000 per displaced student for the school year or as much as $7,500 for a student in special education. (“Educators Discover That Tracking Displaced Students is a Challenge,” Oct. 26, 2005.)

But groups such as the Phoenix-based Alliance for School Choice, which supports public funding for private school tuition, objected to the bill’s restrictions on use of federal money to pay for religious instruction, while Ralph G. Neas, the president of the liberal group People for the American Way, in Washington, denounced the proposal as “the largest private school voucher program in the nation’s history.”

A version of this article appeared in the November 02, 2005 edition of Education Week as House Panel Rejects Education Accounts for Hurricane Aid

Events

Jobs The EdWeek Top School Jobs Virtual Career Fair
Find teaching jobs and other jobs in K-12 education at the EdWeek Top School Jobs virtual career fair.
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Mathematics Webinar
Engaging Young Students to Accelerate Math Learning
Join learning scientists and inspiring district leaders, for a timely panel discussion addressing a school district’s approach to doubling and tripling Math gains during Covid. What started as a goal to address learning gaps in
Content provided by Age of Learning & Digital Promise, Harlingen CISD
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Curriculum Webinar
How to Power Your Curriculum With Digital Books
Register for this can’t miss session looking at best practices for utilizing digital books to support their curriculum.
Content provided by OverDrive

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

School Choice & Charters In Fight Over Millions of Dollars for Charter Schools, a Marijuana Tax May Bring Peace
The Oklahoma State Board of Education voted unanimously to rescind a polarizing lawsuit settlement, pending certain stipulations.
Nuria Martinez-Keel, The Oklahoman
3 min read
Money bills cash funds close up Getty
Getty
School Choice & Charters Full-Time Virtual Schools: Still Growing, Still Struggling, Still Resisting Oversight
Nearly 500,000 students now attend full-time online and blended schools, says a new report from the National Education Policy Center.
6 min read
Student attending class from a remote location.
E+
School Choice & Charters Opinion Is Hybrid Home Schooling the Future of Education?
Rick Hess speaks with Mike McShane about hybrid home schooling, which combines the best of home schooling and traditional schooling.
7 min read
Image shows a multi-tailed arrow hitting the bullseye of a target.
DigitalVision Vectors/Getty
School Choice & Charters Oklahoma Charter Schools Granted Local Tax Revenue in 'Seismic' Settlement
A groundbreaking settlement will fundamentally change the way charter schools are funded in Oklahoma, despite vehement opposition.
Nuria Martinez-Keel, The Oklahoman
3 min read
This July 19, 2019 photo shows an Epic Charter Schools office in Oklahoma City. The Oklahoma State Board of Education voted Thursday in favor of an agreement with the state's public charter school association to settle a 2017 lawsuit.
This July 19, 2019 photo shows an Epic Charter Schools office in Oklahoma City. The Oklahoma State Board of Education voted Thursday in favor of an agreement with the state's public charter school association to settle a 2017 lawsuit.
Sue Ogrocki/AP