A proposal to sharply expand a program to use tax dollars to send students to private and parochial schools suffered a severe – and perhaps fatal – setback today.

The House, on a 27-31 vote, killed the proposal to open up the voucher-like program to any children living in areas of the state where the average income is less than about $44,000 a year. The vote came despite arguments by proponents that it would provide parents of needy children with additional educational opportunities.

But Rep. Ethan Orr, R-Tucson, one of the foes, said talk of additional funding of private schools is premature.

“Parental choice starts with well-funded and well functioning public schools,” he said. Orr said that discussion can occur “once we fix our funding formulas, once we make our public school system one of the best in the nation.”

Today's vote may not be the last word, as proponents can ask the measure be reconsidered next week. But it remains unclear whether they can convince enough of their colleagues to change their minds.

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