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Aide backs private school aid

WASHINGTON -- Education Secretary Margaret Spellings yesterday defended a White House plan to help Hurricane Katrina evacuees pay for private schooling.

Spellings also warned that education programs may be cut to help pay for President Bush's disaster aid plan. Neither she nor her aides identified what those cuts might be.

Overall, the devastating Gulf Coast hurricane, which has displaced about 372,000 students from Mississippi and Louisiana, was the dominant topic in Spellings's remarks.

Bush wants Congress to approve as much as $1.9 billion to cover 90 percent of the tab for educating those students, an unprecedented federal share.

The Bush proposal has drawn fire from some educators and Democratic lawmakers because it would allow public money to flow to private schools.

Spellings said as much as $7,500 would go to each displaced student, regardless of what type of school students want to attend or whether they were in a private school before the storm.

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