WASHINGTON -- School-choice supporters hope they're halfway toward a landmark voucher plan for poor students, but critics pledge a fierce fight to keep public money out of private education.
In a 205-203 vote, the House endorsed private-school vouchers for poor District of Columbia students Friday, a plan likely to win final approval when the city's budget comes to a vote next week.
The Senate will soon consider a similar plan to grant vouchers to a small share of students in the district, known for years of poor performance.
If approved by Congress, the district plan would be the first federally funded voucher program.
"Not many, if any, members of Congress ... have their children in D.C. public schools. Most are in private schools," said Rep. Randy Cunningham, R-Calif. "And yet there are some who would deny poor children, poor families to have the same rights that members of Congress and other people who are affluent have."
The House measure would let at least 1,300 students switch to private schools, more if some students receive less than the maximum $7,500 a year. There are roughly 68,000 students in the district's school system.
Four Democrats joined 201 Republicans to support the voucher amendment, which authorized $10 million for the next budget year and unspecified sums for the next four years of the pilot project.
House Democrats said public money should be used to improve struggling schools, not to encourage people to leave them.
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