Bush Urges Rigorous High School Testing
Ohanian Comment: And the beat goes on. So-called liberals like Kennedy insist that the only issue is money.
FALLS CHURCH, Va., Jan. 13 - President Bush called on Wednesday for a rigorous high school testing program in math and reading that would be the major education initiative of his second term.
The effort would expand the No Child Left Behind Act by $1.5 billion as it tries to rescue lagging students in the upper grades.
Nearly four years after his first successful campaign to impose federal standards on elementary and intermediate schools, Mr. Bush called on Congress to extend similar tests to high schools. He described poor performance among high school students as a "warning and a call to action" and prescribed testing for freshmen, sophomores and juniors as a solution.
"We're committed to education reform at all levels," Mr. Bush told students, teachers and elected officials at J. E. B. Stuart High School here.
Teachers and state officials have criticized the government for failing to pay for the original program, a point that Democrats raised often in the presidential campaign last year.
Mr. Bush emphasized his intention to finance the testing, describing the government role as a "funding source for specific projects."
The proposal, to be in the 2006 budget next month, would allocate $1.2 billion for "high school intervention" to help students who are falling behind. An additional $250 million would be earmarked for testing.
"Listen, I've heard every excuse in the book not to test," Mr. Bush said. "My answer is, How do you know if a child is learning if you don't test? We've got money in the budget to help the states implement the tests. There should be no excuse saying, 'Well, it's an unfunded mandate.' Forget it. It will be funded."
At least two Democrats who joined the administration to champion the previous education bill reacted cautiously without rejecting the new plan altogether.
Senator Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts, the leading Democratic ally in the earlier fight, said any new high school program would be meaningless if the testing of younger students was underfinanced.
"It's time for the White House to realize that America cannot expand opportunity and embrace the future on a tin-cup education budget," Mr. Kennedy said in a speech at the National Press Club.
In the audience here, students from the heavily Democratic region said they were skeptical of a proposal that would most likely increase their academic burden. One student said it ran counter to everything taught about local control in classes on government.
"In government, we're kind of learning how national levels of government really shouldn't interfere with local and state levels," a sophomore, Electra Bolotas, 16, said. "And then he kept saying that, oh, the national level is not going to interfere with the local and state. But this is, like, kind of a national proposal."
Senator George Allen, Republican of Virginia, said a national testing regimen would be unnecessary in his state. "We already have the standards," Mr. Allen said.
Mr. Bush, who often says he will press ahead on overhauling Social Security despite sizable Republican opposition, went out of his way to raise the subject in his education speech. He framed his argument in terms of the students, casting it, as he often does, as a long-term crisis that will affect future generations but seemingly aiming it at the Republican lawmakers in the front row.
"It's hard for me to come to a high school class and look at our youngsters and say, 'The Social Security system is in good shape,' when I understand it's not," Mr. Bush said. "To the seniors of America, nothing is going to change when it comes to your Social Security check. But if this Congress doesn't join this administration in working to reform and strengthen Social Security, we will not be able to look at the high school seniors of today and say, 'We have done our duty in protecting Social Security for you.' "
Another Virginia Republican, Representative Tom Davis, voiced skittishness about partial privatization of Social Security. "I'm not convinced yet," Mr. Davis said.
In an interview on Tuesday in The Wall Street Journal, Mr. Bush showed no sign of backing down even after prominent conservatives said they could not support a plan that would increase the budget debt.
On another topic, in an interview on Wednesday in The Washington Times, he discussed the role of faith in his presidency, saying he could not "see how you can be president without a relationship with the Lord."
Anne E. Kornblut
New York Times
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