Religious School Aid Advances In Senate, But Falters In House

The Senate has agreed to a federal aid program that includes massive funding for religious schools.

On Nov. 3, the Senate approved a $1.7-billion education package for private and public schools that have enrolled students displaced by the Gulf Coast hurricanes. The measure, approved on voice vote, would grant $6,000 for tuition and other costs for students who attend religious schools and $7,500 for students with disabilities.

Americans United for Separation of Church and State had lobbied for the measure’s defeat.

“This bill is deeply misguided,” said Barry W. Lynn, Americans United executive director. “The bill does not use the word ‘voucher,’ but that’s what this really is. This gives millions of dollars in virtually unrestricted cash grants to religious schools.”

The media reported that passage of the measure was in part due to the support of Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.), who has been a longtime opponent of private school vouchers. A Kennedy spokesperson told The New York Times that the senator refused to consider the measure a voucher program because the aid would be temporary and would be channeled through public school authorities.

A more explicit voucher scheme proposed by Sen. John Ensign (R-Nev.) failed on a 68-31 vote.

A similar voucher proposal in the House has run into stiff opposition. Congressional Daily reported in late October that four Republicans joined Democrats on the House Education and Workforce Committee to block a plan by Rep. John Boehner (R-Ohio) that would also funnel large sums of public dollars to religious schools affected by the displacement of Gulf Coast students.