Over all, more than 372,000 schoolchildren were displaced by the storm and are now enrolled in schools as far from the Gulf Coast as California and New England. The total includes about 61,000 who attended private schools in Louisiana, 50,000 of them in Roman Catholic schools.
Under the plan, children in public and private schools would be regarded equally for aid purposes, with a spending cap of $7,500 per student.
Senator Edward M. Kennedy, Democrat of Massachusetts, the ranking member of the Senate education committee, said in a statement that he applauded President Bush's efforts to serve the educational needs of displaced children. "But I am extremely disappointed that he has proposed providing this relief using such a politically charged approach," Mr. Kennedy added. "This is not the time for a partisan debate on vouchers."
Craig Orfield, a spokesman for the committee chairman, Senator Michael B. Enzi, Republican of Wyoming, said Mr. Enzi had not yet reviewed the department's request. He also said Mr. Enzi "generally does not favor vouchers."
Reg Weaver, president of the National Education Association, which represents 2.7 million public school teachers and has steadfastly opposed voucher programs, said, "Vouchers are a flawed and divisive approach that undermines public education."
Mr. Weaver's counterpart at the American Federation of Teachers, Edward J. McElroy, said, "We do not believe that the voucher plan in the Department of Education's proposal is the right way to provide that assistance."
Karen Ristau, president of the National Catholic Educational Association, who favors vouchers, said she was "quite pleased" that the administration proposal included aid for children not in public schools.
"This is a way to help all children who have been displaced," Ms. Ristau said. "It also helps Catholic schools that are taking children in. Some are stretched as far as they can go, and this can alleviate some of the stress they are experiencing.
"But long term," she added, "this gives us a good idea of how this would work, like a national experiment."
So Kennedy's position seems to be that the Federal disaster relief is only appropriate for public school kids.
Will there be Federal assistance to rebuild privately owned homes? Private businesses? Churches?
Just wondering. I am surprised that the Senator considers this an appropriate time and these the appropriate circumstances for a partisan debate on vouchers.
MORE: OK. let's drop the pretence that I fully grasp either the Bush proposal or Kennedy's alternative. However, as I read it, Bush is proposing that all displaced students receive the equivalent of a voucher good for either a public or private school.
The Kennedy alternative is not clear. Presumably, he supports Federal assistance to put the 311,000 public school students in different public schools.
But how about the 50,000 Catholic school kids, and the 11,00 private school kids? Let's be reasonable and guess that Kennedy supports aid for them, as long as they relocate to a public school. That seems fair, yet politically charged - one might think that families that have always had their children in Catholic schools are entitled to hurricane relief, too.
A superficially obvious (yet daft) compromise suggests itself: Federal support for public schools for the 311,000 public school kids; Federal support for the 50,000 Catholic school students in new public or Catholic schools (their choice); and Federal support for the 11,000 private school students in new private or public schhools (again, their choice).
Listening Kennedy explain why the 311,000 students who chose the public schools of New Orleans cannot make a new choice will be interesting, but I know his backers demand it.
And listening to Dems explain that, in the context of the billions we are pitching into hurricane relief, we cannot afford to allow Catholic or private school students from New Orleans to make a similar choice in a new city will also be interesting.
Away we go.