Aren’t we too broke for school vouchers?

AREN’T WE TOO BROKE FOR SCHOOL VOUCHERS?…. Let me get this straight. As far as House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) is concerned, the United States government is “broke,” which means we can’t afford to pay for key domestic priorities, even if we want to.

Boehner, however, is also convinced that we have federal funds lying around to pay for private school tuition.

In these dire fiscal times, when even the sacred programs are no longer sacred, Republican leaders have still been able to identify a few that they think deserve more money.

Security for congressmen is slated for a boost, after the Tucson shootings. Aid to Israel would grow. Veterans would get more money for their health care.

And then there’s a little-known program, which gives money to disadvantaged District students to attend private schools, that would get an additional $2.3 million — thanks largely to one powerful patron, House Speaker John A. Boehner.

Indeed, it’s not just the $2.3 million — the Speaker also wants U.S. taxpayers to spend $20 million for private school tuition in D.C. over the next five years.

Maybe this is just an extension of Boehner’s deep and abiding passion for looking out for struggling children? I have a strong hunch that’s not it. After all, the Speaker’s budget plan calls for devastating cuts to Head Start, Pell grants, Title I grants (which help schools with kids who live in poverty), and nutritional aid for pregnant women and women with young children, among other things.

If Boehner were motivated solely by a desire to help children and students, these cuts would be off the table. Instead, they remain near the top of the GOP to-do list.

So what’s really going on here? It’s simply a matter of priorities. Boehner supports brutal spending cuts for most domestic priorities, but he loves vouchers, especially those that benefit Roman Catholic private schools and undermine public education (which his party is growing increasingly hostile towards).

In the mind of the House Speaker, if he recognizes the cognitive dissonance, he shows no signs of letting it bother him. We’re broke when it comes to priorities Boehner doesn’t care about, and we have money to spend on private school tuition because it’s something Boehner does care about.

One could presumably ask Boehner if he’d be willing to invest that $20 million in helping all kids, not just those accepted into D.C. private Catholic academies, but I have a hunch he wouldn’t go for it. The Speaker’s notion of “sacrifice” is surprisingly limited.

And I’d be remiss if I neglected to mention that officials in D.C., elected by the residents of D.C., don’t want vouchers, and would be far happier to see Congress invest that money elsewhere. For that matter, when vouchers have been tried in the city, the promises made by voucher proponents — including improved test scores — never materialized.

Boehner doesn’t care, but maybe he should.

Update: And for good measure, a reader reminds me this morning that the Speaker has time to fight for vouchers, but still can’t bother to work on job creation.