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House rejects efforts to restore vouchers to education bill

By staff,
The Associated Press


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Editor's note: On June 12, the full Senate also turned down a voucher plan advanced by Sen. Judd Gregg, R-N.H.

The House yesterday approved sweeping education legislation, but not before rebuffing conservative lawmakers' efforts to add private-school vouchers to the measure.

The House's 384-45 vote in favor of the bill was seen as a boost to President Bush's domestic agenda, despite the omission of his plan to provide federal funds for children in failing schools to attend religious and other private schools.

Voucher opponents have argued that funding religious-school tuition would violate the establishment clause.

After a lengthy, and at times prickly, debate, House members yesterday rejected two voucher amendments by wide margins. On the first amendment, which would have created a voucher program similar to the one Bush proposed, the vote was 273-155. Only two Democrats and one independent joined Republicans in support of the amendment.

The second measure, which failed on a similar, party-line vote, would have authorized $50 million for voucher demonstration programs in five school districts.

Voucher opponents, who have urged lawmakers to reject Bush's proposal, praised the House's action.

"House members showed great wisdom today by following the lead of the American people and rejecting [vouchers]," said the Rev. Barry Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, in a news release. Lynn has said Bush's voucher plan would "poison" education-reform efforts.

Ralph G. Neas, president of People for the American Way, also commended the House for rejecting the amendments.

"House members know who's really in charge, and they know that the people who elected them don't want vouchers," Neas said in a statement.

Some representatives, however, say that vouchers are needed to help students in low-scoring schools.

During yesterday's debate, Rep. Mike Pence, R-Ind., invoked the civil rights battles of the 1960s, saying "defenders of the status quo stood in the schoolhouse door and said, 'You may not come in.' Now the defenders of the status quo stand in the door and say to the grandchildren of many of those Americans, 'You may not come out.' "

The Senate may not get to its version of a voucher amendment until early June.

The education bill approved by the House reauthorizes the 1965 Elementary and Secondary Education Act, which provides most of the funds for K-12 education. The House version would provide about $24 billion for schools — about $5.4 billion more than 2001.


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