Bush Begins Three-Day Education Tour
WASHINGTON (AP) - President Bush is putting his education policies on display during a three-day focus on the subject, including visits to two states that are toss-ups in the November presidential election.
Bush on Tuesday discusses the No Child Left Behind education law when he visits Butterfield Junior High School in Van Buren, Ark., a Republican stronghold near the Arkansas-Oklahoma border. On Wednesday, in suburban Washington, he speaks about the importance of reading in early grades, followed by a visit Thursday to a West Virginia high school.
The president's education tour follows a similar three-day swing by Democratic presidential rival John Kerry.
Signed in 2003, the No Child Left Behind education law was the centerpiece of Bush's domestic policy agenda. It mandated tough testing and gives all students until 2014 to become proficient in reading and math.
The legislation had bipartisan backing initially, but has run into opposition from Democrats who claim Bush is enforcing the law on the cheap by holding schools accountable for big gains without enough money to succeed.
Administration officials dispute that, saying states and school districts had not tapped some $6 billion in education funding that was available at the start of the year.
Last month, the administration announced it was easing some testing and other provisions of the law that required teachers to have a degree or be certified in every subject they teach.
Kerry, a Massachusetts senator who voted for No Child Left Behind, now says he sees problems with the legislation and wants changes, mainly in the way student progress is measured.
During a three-day education tour of his own last week to Minnesota, New Mexico and California, Kerry vowed that 1 million more students would graduate high school if he is elected. Kerry wants to roll back Bush's tax cuts for people making more than $200,000 a year and use some of the money to create a $200 billion education trust fund over 10 years.
Kerry says about half the money would be used to fully fund No Child Left Behind. He also pledged to channel $30 billion over 10 years to improve teacher pay as well as raise teaching standards, including bonuses of up to $5,000 for those who teach math and science or work in high-need schools.
Tuesday's trip will be Bush's 10th as president to Arkansas, which offers six electoral votes in November. Bush won Arkansas with 51 percent of the vote in 2000, and he and Kerry are campaigning hard for it this year.
Kerry was scheduled to attend a campaign fund-raiser Wednesday in Little Rock.
West Virginia, another of this year's presidential battlegrounds, has five electoral votes. Bush won it in 2000 with 52 percent of the vote.
Bush visited El Dorado, Ark., last month to advocate other education changes.
He called for broad changes to a $1 billion vocational training program, and for the creation of $5,000 grants for poor students who emphasize math and science, a $100 million annual program to be paid for by imposing new restrictions on Pell Grants and by tapping private foundations. Bush also proposed requiring high-school seniors in every state to take national math and English tests that currently are mandated only for fourth- and eighth-graders.
Deb Riechmann, Associated Press