WASHINGTON (AP) - The House voted Thursday to let Head Start centers consider religion when hiring workers, overshadowing its moves to strengthen the preschool program's academics and finances.
The Republican-led House approved a bill to renew the Head Start program through 2011. The bill includes a provision that would let churches and other faith-based preschool centers hire only people who share their religion yet still receive federal tax dollars.
Democrats blasted that idea as discriminatory.
Launched in the 1960s, the nearly $7 billion Head Start program provides comprehensive education to more than 900,000 poor children. Though credited with getting children ready for school, Head Start has drawn scrutiny as cases of financial waste and questions about academic quality have surfaced nationwide.
Overall, the House bill would insert more competition into Head Start grants, require greater disclosure of how money is spent and try to improve collaboration among educators in different grades. Yet on Thursday, the dispute over religion eroded the bipartisan support for Head Start's renewal.The House passed the bill 231-184; only 23 Democrats voted for it.