School Voucher Hypocrisy

In the Washington Monthly, Steve Benen takes the Speaker of the House to task on his hypocrisy in supporting the slashing of vitally important programs while setting some funds aside for a pet project of his in the District of Columbia.

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. …

[He] 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).

The DC Opportunity Scholarship Program certainly does help religious schools stay open. This voucher program has been in existence since 2003, and more than three fourths of the students in it have used these government funds for private religious schools. In other words, the program funnels taxpayer money into religious organizations. In addition to the many other arguments against school vouchers, this program raises significant First Amendment concerns.

Does the Speaker support the program because he thinks it helps students achieve academically? In fact, neutral analyses of the program demonstrate clearly that it simply has not significantly improved the educational attainment of the enrolled students. The Department of Education has concluded that the use of a voucher had no statistically significant impact on overall student achievement in math or reading. The results were the same for students who applied from schools in need of improvement.

Does the Speaker think that the people of DC want this voucher program? In fact, the city’s mayor opposes it, as does Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton and numerous members of the DC Council. If the people of DC wanted a voucher program, they would adopt one, something they have never done.

So why support a program that the locals don’t want and that the local population’s elected officials have asked you not to impose on them?

Throughout America and within Congress, there are ideologues seeking to privatize education as part of a larger push to privatize a wide swath of core government functions. Other ideologues chafe against the restrictions on government-funded religion that the Founders wisely placed in the First Amendment. So-called “opportunity scholarships” are an opportunity for them, but not for students.

People For the American Way opposes the Speaker’s bill, H.R. 471. It has been passed by committee, and a floor vote is expected near the end of March.

PFAW