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Bush Says No `Excuses' for Schools' Failure to Teach

President George W. Bush said schools are getting the federal help they need to improve students' math and reading skills, defending his program against Democratic challenger John Kerry's view that schools are short-changed.

``We don't need people making excuses,'' Bush, 57, said at Butterfield Junior High School in Van Buren, Arkansas. ``If you have low standards for every child, don't be surprised at what you get. High standards don't set our children on a path to failure. High standards set our children on a path to success.''

Kerry, a four-term Massachusetts senator, says Bush didn't provide enough funding for the No Child Left Behind Act the president pushed through Congress two years ago. The law requires schools to test students to see if they meet annual learning targets and use federal funds to hire tutors if they fail.

``From pre-school through college, George Bush has failed to provide local school districts with the resources they need,'' Phil Singer, a spokesman for Kerry's presidential campaign, said in a statement. Kerry, 60, will campaign in Arkansas tomorrow.

Bush has said his program is working, with fourth-grade math tests up 9 percentage points nationwide and eighth-grade reading tests showing a 5 percentage-point gain. Failing schools are getting help, he said.

``Sometimes when you change, people are quick to criticize,'' Bush said. ``The truth is, the lowest performing schools are getting extra money to improve.'' The U.S. government spent $234 million in 2003 on under-performing schools, he said.

`Bush's Race to Lose'

Bush leads Kerry 50.9 percent to 42.5 percent in a state poll of 418 respondents conducted March 1 to April 8 by Arkansas State University. Independent candidate Ralph Nader polled 6.6 percent. The margin of error is 5 percentage points.

Arkansas is one of 17 states that either Bush or former Vice President Al Gore, his Democratic challenger in 2000, won by less than 7 percentage points. Arkansas holds six of the 270 electoral votes needed to secure the presidency, and Bush carried the state with 51.3 percent of the vote to Gore's 45.9 percent.

``It's still George Bush's race to lose'' in the November election, Richard Wang, a political science professor at Arkansas State University in Jonesboro, said.

Kerry may ``have a better chance here,'' the home state of former President Bill Clinton, a Democrat, than in other southern states, Wang said. ``Things can happen here,'' particularly given the war in Iraq, he said.

Arkansas' 37th Armored Regiment is the largest National Guard contingent of any U.S. state in Iraq, and the state has suffered more casualties than any other, including four in one day last month, Wang said.

`Very Patriotic'

Kerry will pick up support in the South, retired Army General Wesley Clark said in a conference call arranged by Kerry's campaign. ``When people talk to him, they like him,'' said Clark, an Arkansan and former primary rival. ``John Kerry's a veteran -- he had a great military record in Vietnam. In the South, we're very patriotic.''

Bush is losing support over his handling of the economy and Iraq, a May 3-5 poll by Associated Press-Ispos showed. Forty-three percent of people questioned in the poll backed Bush's management of the economy, the president's lowest rating since Ipsos began tracking it in 2002, AP reported.

Support for Bush's handling of foreign policy and terrorism dropped to 50 percent, a five-point loss in a month, AP said.

Bush leads Kerry by 46 percent to 43 percent in the overall race. The AP-Ipsos poll surveyed 1,000 adults, 778 of them registered voters, with a margin of error of 3 percentage points.

Kerry's Plan

Kerry last week proposed a $30 billion program to raise teachers' pay and hold them to higher standards. His education trust fund would include hiring more teachers and reducing class size. Kerry wants to retain or recruit 500,000 teachers in high- need areas in the next four years by boosting salaries as much as 12.5 percent to an average of $45,000.

Kerry also proposed a college student-mentoring program for middle-school students, the breakup of large, failing high schools and a broader high school curriculum. He said he supports state efforts to deny driving licenses to youths who drop out.

Bush's fiscal year 2005 budget request is a 49 percent funding increase for elementary and secondary education since the 2001 fiscal year, according to a White House fact sheet. That includes $13.3 billion in funding for disadvantaged students, $11.1 billion for special education programs and $1.3 billion for reading programs, according to the sheet.

`Not Funded Properly'

Democrats, including Senator Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts, who worked with Bush to pass the No Child Left Behind law, say the president reneged on a commitment to fully fund the law, leaving states short of the money they need to carry it out.

``The law is not funded properly,'' said Tish Talbott, director of communications at the Arkansas Education Association. ``And there are many ways that it needs to be fixed besides just the funding,'' she said. The association is the Arkansas affiliate of the National Education Association.

The NEA endorsed Kerry in the Democratic primary, and likely will endorse him in the general election, said Michael Pons, a spokesman for the 2.7-million teachers' organization.

Roughly 25 percent of Arkansas' schools are considered to be in need of improvement because the law's testing requirements don't take into account the needs of special education students and those learning English as a second language, she said.

The Republican-controlled Senate last year rejected a Democratic proposal to increase spending by $6.1 billion on disadvantaged students. The White House has said $6 billion is available for education spending that hasn't been spent.

To contact the reporter on this story:
Heidi Przybyla at hprzybyla@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor of this story:
Glenn Hall at ghall@bloomberg.net

— Heidi Przybyla
Bloomberg News


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