WASHINGTON — THE Senate has approved the major education bill of the 102nd Congress - hours before the State of the Union address - but it refused, at least temporarily, to vote the use of military money for domestic programs.
The legislation was approved 92 to 6 Tuesday and sent to a conference with the House.
The bill, largely drafted by Democrats, authorizes $850 million the first year, and whatever sums are needed in the following nine years, to improve education in neighborhood schools.
Despite apparently strong support in the White House to take money from the Pentagon and divert it to domestic programs and public works projects, the Senate is not ready to take the step - even symbolically.
In the first test vote of the session, the Senate refused 53 to 45 a budget waiver that would have allowed consideration of a nonbinding resolution to transfer an unspecified sum of military money. Unless the administration and Congress agree to break the "firewall" that prohibits the shift of money, no military funds can be used except to reduce the deficit.
Through a system of grants in the bill, the states will decide which schools get the money, based on plans submitted by local districts. As much as 25 percent of their grants can be used to establish new, innovative schools. The grants also allow parents to choose among public, but not private or religious, schools.
The Senate last week killed the two key elements of the Bush education plan: the creation of new experimental schools in each congressional district plus two more in each state, and the use of federal money to permit low-income parents to send their children to private or religious schools.
Sen. Tim Wirth (D) of Colorado, the sponsor of the resolution of spending, said: "Today's vote is a test of our commitment in the Senate to implement change and shift our priorities toward education. We don't need to spend more money. We just need to spend it differently."