WASHINGTON (JTA) — The Reform movement said it was "alarmed" by the passage of a bill in the U.S. House of Representatives reviving a program that funds scholarships at religious schools, while the Orthodox Union supported it.
The Republican-majority House passed the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program on Wednesday by a vote of 225 to 195. The $100 million program, ostensibly enabling parents in Washington, D.C., to steer their children to schools of choice, effectively favors religious schools because its scholarships, typically around $12,000, are too low for secular private schools.
The program, launched during the Bush administration, had been shut down by a Democratic-majority Congress in 2009.
While it affects a relatively small number of children, and only in Washington, its symbolism brings out partisan differences on state funding for religious institutions.
The Reform movement’s Religious Action Center in a statement called the vote "alarming both from the standpoint of our nation’s long commitment to public education and to separation of church and state."
"Vouchers divert money from those public schools that are most in need of additional assistance," the RAC said.
In a statement before the vote, the Orthodox Union expressed its support, saying the bill "puts the needs of children and families first to ensure every child has the best education."
"In these difficult economic times, it is increasingly harder for parents to afford the school that will best educate their children," the statement said.
The measure is unlikely to pass the Democratic-majority Senate on its own, but its elements may be wrapped into a broader compromise on an education bill.
President Obama opposes the bill but has yet to say whether he would veto it.