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Education Law Will Stand, Bush Tells Its Detractors

Ohanian Comment: Note that the Times lists this as politics. That's what it is. Bush is running as the education president. Note that he spoke to an "invited crowd." The Bushes said they aren't attending their daughters' college graduations--to avoid the fuss it causes other families. That's a euphemism for expected anti-war demonstrations. Bush will speak at a military academy graduation. No fuss expected there.

Bush says "If you have low standards for every child, don't be surprised at what you get." Who has low standards for every child? Other than politicians who refuse to fund adequate housing, health and child care as well as living wages.

VAN BUREN, Ark., May 11 - President Bush answered the growing number of critics of the "No Child Left Behind" education law that he made a centerpiece of his domestic agenda, declaring in a school gymnasium Tuesday that "we're not backing down" to those who say the federal government is setting unrealistic academic standards.

In what was billed as an official appearance that appeared to have more than a little mix of election-year politics - Senator John Kerry comes to Arkansas on Wednesday - Mr. Bush offered his most detailed defense yet of the law's effort to link federal aid to student performance. Democrats have said he has failed to finance the program as fully as his administration promised.

The president's appearance came as his campaign prepared to unveil a new advertising effort on Wednesday featuring Laura Bush highlighting the education law. The spot is designed to reach undecided female voters through the Web sites they frequent.

Speaking to an invited crowd of students, parents and teachers here in western Arkansas, Mr. Bush said states, not the federal government, should control what happens in the classroom as long as federal standards are met. He made no direct reference to the 14 states that asked the administration two months ago for permission to use alternative methods for showing academic gains under the law. But Mr. Bush appeared to be addressing officials in some of those states when he said: "I don't care how much pressure they try to put on the process. I'm not changing my mind about high standards and the need for accountability, because I know the promise that holds out."

Mr. Bush carried Arkansas narrowly in 2000, and it is considered a swing state this year.

Mr. Kerry's aides say he plans to use the state's most famous native, former President Bill Clinton, to campaign on his behalf.

On Tuesday the Kerry campaign reached for Gen. Wesley K. Clark, who dropped out of the race for the Democratic nomination this year, to answer Mr. Bush.

"It's billions of dollars short in funding, and that reflects the president's budget priorities," General Clark, who is retired, said in a conference call with reporters. Because of the cutbacks, he said, Arkansas lost $68 million in federal financing it would otherwise have received.

Mr. Bush's visit also drew criticism from the president of the Arkansas Education Association, Sid Johnson, who said in a statement that a quarter of the state's schools were judged to have failed to meet "adequate yearly progress" in the last year and who criticized the legislation for "flaws that make implementation nearly impossible." The association is the Arkansas affiliate of the National Education Association, which supported Mr. Kerry in the primaries and seems all but certain to do so in the general election.

Concerned about the growing criticism of the law's execution, the Education Department has issued limited exceptions for meeting its standards. But Mr. Bush said Tuesday he was giving no ground.

"We don't need people making excuses," he said at Butterfield Junior High School, as students and parents fanned themselves in a gym that became so overheated that Mr. Bush said he was ending his comments "before some of us fall out."

"If you have low standards for every child, don't be surprised at what you get," he said. "High standards don't set our children on a path to failure. High standards set our children on a path to success."

The law requires schools to test students to assure that they meet learning targets in fundamental skills. If a school fails to improve over a number of years, the legislation provides economic help to parents who seek to take their children elsewhere. Mr. Bush argued today that fourth-grade math tests and eighth-grade reading tests show that scores are rising on average.

The White House, seeking to answer accusations that the legislation is underfinanced, turned out a fact sheet on Tuesday that said its 2005 budget request, if approved, would represent a 49 percent increase for elementary and secondary education since the 2001 fiscal year.

Mrs. Bush joins the fray with the new education spot, in which she says, "The president is so committed to education reform because he looks at schools as a parent looks at schools."

Campaign aides said Mrs. Bush was the logical choice to appear in the Internet advertisement because, as a former teacher and librarian, she has particularly high credibility.

"One, she's very popular with voters," said Matthew Dowd, a senior Bush election adviser. "Two, she's seen as very strong on education."

The advertisement will appear on more than 50 Internet sites, many of them popular with women, like Foodtv.com and InStyle.com, campaign aides said.

A 30-second spot similarly highlighting Mr. Bush's education record is to begin this week on cable and on some stations in 18 swing states on Wednesday, campaign aides said.

— David E. Sanger & Jim Rutenberg
New York Times


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