Congress Approves $1.6 Billion for Schools

WASHINGTON (AP) - Congress Thursday approved $1.5 billion in hurricane relief for schools and colleges, including private-school aid that critics assailed as a national voucher experiment.

The money is in a defense spending bill that the House passed in a final push of 2005 work. The Senate approved the spending Wednesday.

Some $750 million will help Gulf Coast public and private schools reopen, months after hurricanes Katrina and Rita turned the region into a disaster zone. An additional $645 million will help public and private schools elsewhere pay for teaching, transportation and supplies for displaced students.

An estimated 372,000 students have been forced into different schools because of the hurricanes.

There also is $200 million in college aid. Almost all will go for the recovery of Louisiana and Mississippi campuses, with some money set aside for colleges nationwide that have taken in evacuated students.

The final $5 million is for the education of homeless children.