HARRISBURG, Pa. (CBS) – A bill that would create a tuition voucher program in Pennsylvania has cleared its first legislative hurdle, passing the state Senate Education Committee.

Before voting to approve the bill, the committee rebuffed amendments offered by critics of tuition vouchers — critics such as state senator Daylin Leach, a Democrat representing suburban Philadelphia, who contends that money for the voucher program will come from the state’s poorest public schools.

“Schools that will be filled with children who still go there but will have fewer resources,” he said.

Sen. Anthony Williams (D-Phila.), a co-sponsor of the bill, said vouchers will not destroy public education, and challenged opponents to eliminate funding inequities that he says exist between schools in the same district.

“Trust me — the conversation about vouchers is a pimple on an elephant’s butt,” he said.  “It is minor league when we talk about the heavy lifting to reform public education.”

The bill, which now goes to the Senate Appropriations Committee, would allow low-income families to redirect their child’s state school subsidy to a private school. It would target the state’s poorest performing schools in the first two years.

Reported by KYW Harrisburg Bureau chief Tony Romeo.