September 22, 2005 ( – One of the Senate’s best known Catholics has worked to reject a proposal by President Bush that would have given families displaced by Hurricane Katrina financial aid to send their children to private or parochial schools. A bipartisan student relief package put forth by Massachusetts Senator Edward Kennedy and Wyoming Senator Michael Enzi did not include a provision that would have given students up to $7,500 because Kennedy opposed the provision, according to a high level Congressional staffer who spoke with Culture & Cosmos.

Culture & Cosmos also learned that a prominent Church prelate said he was furious that aid to private schools had been kept out of the package and he was especially angry that it is being blocked by “four Irish Catholic Senators.”

The proposal for financial aid came from the Bush administration and the Department of Education and noted that, “Communities in Louisiana significantly impacted by the hurricane had an above average number of children enrolled in private schools — 61,000 students in private schools compared to 187,000 in public schools in four severely impacted parishes. These significantly impacted Louisiana communities averaged 25% of students attending private K-12 schools — much higher than the 11% national average of private school students.” Out of the 61,000 students in private schools, 81%, or 50,000 attend Catholic schools. In fact, New Orleans public schools have long had a reputation for poor quality and the Catholic school system there is seen as an affordable refuge.ÂÂÂÂ

The total price tag for the Education Department’s proposal which aims to cover most of the cost of educating students displaced by Katrina is $1.9 billion. The administration estimates that of that total, 25% or $488 million would be needed for educational support if their proposal was implemented.

Kennedy publicly criticized aid for private schools yesterday in a statement: “But I am extremely disappointed that [President Bush] has proposed providing this relief using such a politically-charged approach. This is not the time for a partisan political debate on vouchers.” Despite the high percentage of New Orleans students who attend private school, Kennedy said “we need to focus on rebuilding the public school systems which are the cornerstones of the Gulf Coast communities and economies.”

Catholic League president William Donohue praised the proposal. “This is more than an education issue – it is a matter of fundamental civil rights. Having been ravaged by Hurricane Katrina, the residents of New Orleans want to put their lives back together as soon as possible. What they don’t need now is for federal lawmakers to stand in their way by playing politics with the choices they make.”

Legislators are still hashing out the final details of the relief package they will send to the president so it is still possible that money for vouchers will be added back into Senators Enzi and Kennedy’s legislations.