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BUSH'S education plan

WASHINGTON (AP) _ The price of President 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, R-N.H.

White House press secretary Ari Fleischer said Bush was not surprised by the vote, and noted that three Democrats voted for the amendment. ``The margin was better than expected,'' Fleischer said as the president attended the NATO summit in Brussels, Belgium.

Sen. Joseph Lieberman, D-Conn., 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, D-Mass., 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 K-12 education.

Sen. Tom Daschle, D-S.D., 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 $30 billion for elementary and secondary education for 2002, nearly $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.

One pending amendment, offered by Sen. Christopher Dodd, D-Conn., would exempt federal after-school programs from the demonstration and keep the money for such programs separate. Dodd said the flexibility program, far from being a small experiment, could encompass half the nation's public school children if the largest states and school districts are selected, meaning that millions of children's after-school funds could be redirected.

Another amendment, offered by Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, would commit millions of dollars to school repair and renovation programs. It is opposed by Republicans, who say the federal government shouldn't dictate how states spend federal education money.

Gregg and other Republicans sought a demonstration program for vouchers, proposing that a limited number of low-income students in failing schools become eligible for federal tuition grants to private or parochial school. The amendment would have created programs in up to 10 cities and three states.

Teachers' unions welcomed the vote.

``Why waste time on voucher programs that pedal false hope, when the focus should be on programs that actually work to raise student achievement?'' said American Federation of Teachers President Sandra Feldman. ``We owe it to the 95 percent of all children who attend public schools to give them proven programs.''
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