The price of President George W. Bush’s education plan is one of the few issues remaining after Senate Democrats defeated a Republican attempt to give poor students federal money to attend private or parochial schools.
The vote came as leaders in both parties worked to wrap up the education legislation by week’s end. Senators still faced debate on, among other issues, school repair and after-school programs.
In a long-awaited vote Tuesday, 11 Republicans and independent Vermont Sen. James Jeffords joined 46 Democrats to defeat the voucher amendment, sponsored by Sen. Judd Gregg, a New Hampshire Republican.
Sen. Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut, one of three Democrats who broke ranks to vote for the amendment, called vouchers “a short-term educational lifeline” for children in failing schools.
Sen. Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts expressed most Democrats’ views when he said the private-school allowances would drain money from public schools but wouldn’t keep private schools from rejecting children with learning disabilities, limited English skills or other problems.
“The idea that this is going to open the door to parents whose children are in failing schools and want a way out is raising false hopes,” Kennedy said.
The final vote was 58-41. Along with Lieberman, Sens. Tom Carper of Delaware and Robert Byrd of West Virginia joined Republicans.
Several potentially sticky issues remain for lawmakers, including how much money will be attached to the omnibus bill, which provides most of the federal money for elementary and high school education.
Sen. Tom Daschle of South Dakota on Tuesday said Democrats would use their new leverage as the majority party to press the White House to increase its commitment of federal funds for public education.
“Reform is impossible without resources,” Daschle said in his first public challenge to Bush since becoming Senate majority leader last week. “And we will continue to press for resources” when the House and Senate begin compromise talks.
The House last month approved its own version of the measure. House lawmakers also rejected vouchers.
The Senate bill calls for about US$30 billion for elementary and secondary education for 2002, nearly US$11 billion more than Bush has proposed.
Bush’s legislation would require states to administer annual math and reading tests to students in grades three through eight, as well as one grade in high school. Schools with low test scores would receive additional aid, but if a school failed to show enough progress after two years, low-income students would be free to transfer to another public school. After three years, the same students would be permitted to use federal funds for tutoring or transportation to another public school.
All schools would receive more flexibility in their use of federal funds, but the legislation also would create a demonstration program in which seven states and 25 school districts could receive far greater flexibility in spending federal funds, a key demand of the White House and Republicans.