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Florida Committee Backs Private School Vouchers

A bill that would give parents publicly funded vouchers to pay tuition at private schools has won approval from a legislative committee in Florida, but even the measure's sponsor admits it stands little chance of becoming law this year.

Still, the bill's success in the Senate education committee this month has buoyed supporters and worried opponents.

The measure, which the committee passed by a 5-4 vote, would authorize vouchers for use at any public school in the state, or at participating private schools, which could include religious schools.

Public schools would lose funding when students chose other schools, but precisely how much money is unclear, legislative aides said.

Vouchers for most students would be set at 80 percent of per-pupil spending, but it is unclear whether this would include all funding or just state aid, according to Sen. Donald C. Sullivan, the chairman of the Senate committee, and aides. Low-income students would qualify for more money.

The Florida Teaching Profession-NEA estimates that under the broader interpretation, the measure would cost $350 million the first year, assuming that private school enrollment held steady. The union, which strongly opposes the bill, estimates that the cost would rise to about $1 billion over five years, as it calls for gradually increasing payments to private schools.

The proposal's sponsor, Republican Sen. John McKay, said the bill had no chance of enactment before the legislative session ends next month.

Leaders in the House, where Democrats hold a majority, oppose the measure, and leaders in the Republican-dominated Senate have been non-committal.

"But the committee's passage of the bill will encourage more debate and awareness on the part of the public, so I'm encouraged," Mr. McKay said.

School Bus Assaults

A Colorado House committee has approved a bill that would stiffen the penalties for assaults on school bus drivers.

The House transportation committee approved the bill March 8, and it was expected to go to the House floor sometime this month.

The legislation would make assault on a bus driver a felony punishable by four to 12 years in prison.

The committee heard testimony from a Denver driver who said she was hit in the back of the head by a soft-drink can allegedly thrown by a 14-year-old girl who was never punished.

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