RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) -- A bill narrowing eligibility for North Carolina's pre-K program is one step closer to passage.

The North Carolina House gave tentative approval to the Republican measure Thursday in a 62-46 vote. The bill lowers eligibility to the federal poverty rate, which is about $19,500 for a family of three. The eligibility mark is currently about twice that rate.

Bill sponsor Rep. Justin Burr of Albemarle says the change won't reduce the number of slots available, but roughly halves income eligibility to 31,000 children.

Democrats argue the bill shirks the state's duty to educate the less fortunate.

A state appeals court ruled last year that the state can't turn away eligible children but didn't order it to accept all applicants.

The bill requires one final vote before going to the Senate.

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