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Bush Pushes NCLB; Dean Attacks
Bush Pushes Education as Election Year Opens
By RICHARD W. STEVENSON
ST. LOUIS, Jan. 5 — President Bush spent Monday, the first working day of the election year, in Missouri, an important state that he narrowly won in 2000, and focused attention on one of his signature domestic initiatives: the education bill he signed into law two years ago this week.
Seeking to regain the offensive on an issue they once considered their own, Democrats responded with attacks, saying Mr. Bush had not provided sufficient financing for the programs created by the bill, the No Child Left Behind Act.
Mr. Bush combined his trip on Monday to an elementary school in a poor neighborhood here with a $2,000-a-person fund-raiser in a downtown convention center that yielded $2.8 million for his campaign's coffers. By adding to the more than $120 million it collected last year, the campaign drew jibes from Democrats that the White House was focused on a "no dollar left behind" policy.
In his stop at the Pierre Laclede Elementary School, Mr. Bush met with fourth graders to encourage them to read and to reminisce about having been a crossing guard at his elementary school in Midland, Tex. Then he went to the gym, where he discussed the law's effect on the school with a group of administrators, teachers and a parent.
"I'm here at Laclede because this is a school that has defied expectations," Mr. Bush said.
He noted that in 1999, before the law was enacted, only 7 percent of the school's students were reading at grade level in third grade and that now 80 percent of third graders were reading at grade level. The inner-city school has won widespread recognition in Missouri for its improvements in instruction and ability to attract high-caliber teachers.
"It's defied expectations by raising the bar and believing that every child can learn," Mr. Bush said. "That's not the case in some parts of the country, unfortunately. In some parts of the country, schools just shuffle kids through. And that's not right, that's not the American way."
The legislation, approved in 2001 in a bipartisan vote, called for increased federal spending on education and required schools to show progress in student achievement through regular testing. Passage of the measure was a big victory for Mr. Bush, who had campaigned on a similar approach to education, and let him claim the political center on an issue that perennially ranks among the top concerns of voters.
Since then, Democrats have sought to emphasize their differences with Mr. Bush over how the legislation has been carried out, particularly the levels of spending the White House has sought.
"The second anniversary of No Child Left Behind would mean more to America's students and teachers if George Bush hadn't broken his promise to make funding public education as important as raising standards in our schools," Representative Richard A. Gephardt of Missouri, a Democratic presidential candidate, said in a statement.
Mr. Gephardt asserted that the White House's opposition to continued increases in education spending left many teachers without access to the professional training they had been promised, cut bilingual education and allocated less money than Democrats wanted for after-school programs. Mr. Gephardt said he would fully finance education programs and change the law to give more input to states and localities.
Howard Dean, the former governor of Vermont who is running for president, linked Mr. Bush's record on education financing to his overall fiscal policy record. "As President Bush `celebrates' the anniversary of No Child Left Behind today," Dr. Dean said in a statement, "communities across our country are raising property taxes to buy their children's textbooks, pay teachers and, in some cases, keep school doors open. Increases in property taxes, college tuition hikes and cuts in vital services are the costs all Americans pay for the president's disastrous fiscal policies. I call these costs the Bush Tax.' "
Dr. Dean denounced the education law as "a really bad thing the president did."
"It's also a bad thing that our party supported it," he added.
The legislation's emphasis on testing has drawn criticism from some educators and protests from some school districts, but the officials on stage with Mr. Bush here said they were enthusiastic proponents.
"We really believe in it," said Yolanda Moss, the Laclede principal.
Mr. Bush directly addressed the criticism about increased emphasis on testing, saying it was not a punishment or a requirement that should lead teachers to "teach the test" rather than a more general approach to learning. "What testing does and what measuring does is determines whether or not every child is learning," he said. "And if not, whether that child is getting the help he or she needs early, before it is too late."
The White House defended its spending on education, saying there had been a 43 percent increase in federal spending on education from kindergarten through high school since Mr. Bush came to office and that $6 billion in unspent money was still available to states.
Richard W. Stevenson
Bush Pushes Education as Election Year Opens
New York Times
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