We’re ‘broke,’ but can apparently afford school vouchers

WE’RE ‘BROKE,’ BUT CAN APPARENTLY AFFORD SCHOOL VOUCHERS…. House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) doesn’t participate in a lot of floor debates, but he spoke yesterday in support of H.R. 471 — the bill he’s sponsoring to use federal tax dollars to finance private school tuition in the District of Columbia.

Indeed, choking back tears as he touted vouchers, the Speaker implored his colleagues to subsidize private schools, giving their students “a chance.”

As expected, the House GOP was only too pleased to spend the money.

House Republicans voted overwhelmingly Wednesday for the only bill that the Speaker is expected to offer this year, a voucher measure that would provide $20 million annually for five years for scholarships for public school children attending poorly performing schools in the District of Columbia, and $20 million each for charter and traditional public schools in the district.

The bill, known as the SOAR act, would reprise a 2004 program that Speaker John A. Boehner helped devise in which over 1,000 low-income students in the District students were given $7,500 annually in federal money to help pay for private schools, the only program of its type in the nation in which children received federal dollars for vouchers.

The 225-to-195 vote wasn’t close — though it was interesting to see nine House Republicans break ranks and vote with Democrats against the voucher scheme.

There are a few interesting angles to this. For one thing, the D.C. voucher program didn’t work, and Republican assurances about higher test scores proved to be wrong.

For another, it’s fascinating to see House Republicans insist that sweeping budget cuts are a moral imperative … just as soon as they finish spending $20 million on private school tuition.

But I’m most struck by Boehner’s tearful, emotional appeal. Watching him yesterday, one might be tempted to think he genuinely cares about children and quality education.

I obviously can’t read the Speaker’s mind, but there’s reason for skepticism — while Boehner wants to spend $20 million of our money on private school tuition, he also supports brutal 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.