WASHINGTON -- President Bush's far-reaching education plan moved a big step closer to law as the House voted overwhelmingly to approve an omnibus bill that for the first time would tie federal aid to improvements in students' test scores.
Wednesday's 384-45 House vote, hours after the Senate passed a $1.35 trillion, 11-year tax cut, gave Bush victories on his two biggest campaign promises, even as his Republican Party faced the prospect of losing control of the Senate. The education proposal is moving slowly there.
The education victory came with an asterisk, as the House rejected two amendments that would have included private-school vouchers.
Bush and many Republicans have championed vouchers as a way to help students flee schools that fail to improve. Bush and moderate Republicans abandoned the idea to strike a deal with Democrats on a bill that otherwise tracks Bush's blueprint for improving schools.
Despite that defeat, Bush said the House vote was a "giant step toward improving America's public schools."
After the vote, conservatives complained that stripping vouchers from the bill left it merely an expensive, burdensome testing mandate.
The bill reauthorizes the 1965 Elementary and Secondary Education Act, which provides most of the federal money for K-12 education. The House version would provide about $24 billion for schools, $5.4 billion more than 2001.
The legislation would require states to develop and give tests in reading and math to every child in grades three through eight. Schools unable to sufficiently improve test scores after one year would qualify for extra federal aid, but poor students in schools receiving federal Title I funds would have the choice of transferring to another public school. Title I establishes federal education grants for poor children.
At schools failing to show enough progress in scores after three consecutive years, students could use their portions of Title I money for tutoring, summer school or transportation to other public schools. Tutoring services could be provided by parochial schools.
The bill also requires schools to let pupils transfer to other public schools if they are the victims of violent crime at school.
But the plan also lets school districts use up to half their federal money without supervision from state or federal governments. Title I funds still would have to be spent for programs to help the poor.
Like the Senate version, the House bill would give schools close to $5 billion over the next five years to improve reading. It also would give more money for developing charter schools and require all schools to develop new report cards that show students' progress compared to other students locally and statewide.
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