Man Without Qualities

Wednesday, July 23, 2003

Trending Away: A Change Of Heart That Began At The Sacred Heart

The storm over Diane Feinstein's change of heart on school vouchers begins.

The Los Angeles Times reports:

The president of the California Teachers Assn., Barbara E. Kerr, denounced Feinstein's willingness to back vouchers.

"She knows better," Kerr said. "Vouchers have not been proven anywhere to help kids. I have no idea why she's doing this. It's out of character and it doesn't make any sense."

Speaking by telephone from a CTA conference in Monterey, Kerr said many of the union's leaders were calling Feinstein's Washington office to register outrage. The union backed Feinstein in her reelection campaign in 2000, Kerr said, on the assumption that she would oppose vouchers.

Another influential Democrat on the Senate Appropriations Committee, Tom Harkin of Iowa, said a shift by Feinstein would probably break a deadlock on the panel and move that chamber's voucher bill to the Senate floor.

"She's a key vote," says Harkin, who opposes the legislation.

And the San Francisco Chronicle says:

Feinstein's switch heartened proponents of the vouchers that parents could use to pay for tuition at private or parochial schools and infuriated opponents, who say vouchers will weaken public schools and are a violation of the concept of separating church and state.

"They're calling her office in Washington to say don't do this, and that's the politest thing I can say," said California Teachers Association President Barbara Kerr.


Feinstein said frustration with Washington's public schools, where scores rank among the worst for the nation's big cities, prompted her to decide vouchers should get a try.

"Based on the substantial amount of money pumped into the schools and the resultant test scores, I do not believe that money alone is going to solve the problem," she said. "This is why I believe the District should be allowed to try this pilot -- particularly for the sake of its low-income students."


Asked Tuesday whether she supports California's adopting vouchers, Feinstein said in a statement, "Local jurisdictions ought to be able to decide about education policy."

California voters have twice resoundingly rejected the idea of vouchers. The second time was in November 2000, when Proposition 38 could muster only about 30 percent of the vote.

Feinstein's switch was disclosed on the same day that 500 local presidents of the 335,000-member CTA opened a training meeting in Monterey. Kerr, a Riverside elementary public school teacher, said the local activists were furious when they read copies of Feinstein's statement.

"Californians have resoundingly defeated vouchers twice, by 2 to 1," said Kerr, whose union is a powerful voice in the state Democratic Party. "This is our stand. I'm surprised she has forgotten this."

Mary Bergan, president of the state's other big teachers union, the California Federation of Teachers, also blasted Feinstein. "We're just appalled, especially since we had contacted her about the lack of wisdom in this whole proposal," Bergan said.

Bergan said Williams accepted vouchers "as a bargaining chip to get more money for the schools."

On the other side, senior education policy analyst Krista Kafer of the conservative Heritage Foundation hailed Feinstein's conversion. "Her support gives the bill a much greater prospect in the Senate," Kafer said. "It makes it more possible when other Democrats see her action.

"She's a liberal Democrat, a pillar of the liberal Democratic community," she added.

Feinstein, who is Jewish, went to the Convent of Sacred Heart Catholic parochial high school in San Francisco. "I was the first person of my faith admitted to the Convent of the Sacred Heart in San Francisco," she said at a Senate hearing last week.

"The only way I got into Stanford University was because of the education I had in that school -- because I was undisciplined, I was erratic," she said. "This school gave me the discipline and background in learning that enabled me to compete with the best of them. I sit in the United States Senate largely because of that high school education. I deeply believe that," added Feinstein,
who said that she is now helping a child in Washington attend parochial school.

It is true that California voters have twice rejected vouchers. But each time it was on the basis of a public belief that the proposal would defund or disrupt public schools. There is nothing that stops Senator Feinstein from proposing federal legislation to fund experimental state voucher programs limited to poorer children in failing districts - programs which the federal legislation need not require the states to enact. It is unlikely Californians would reject such a federal goodie.

MORE: OpinionJournal weighs in.

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