Gov. Bill Richardson, D-N.M.
Kamil Krzaczynski  /  EPA
Presidential hopeful and Democratic Governor of New Mexico Bill Richardson answers a question during Tuesday night's AFL-CIO Presidential Candidates Forum at the Soldier Field in Chicago, Illinois.
updated 8/8/2007 8:23:43 AM ET 2007-08-08T12:23:43

Democratic presidential hopeful Bill Richardson says schools should be a higher budget priority than the war in Iraq.

"We need to get out of Iraq, where precious lives and needed dollars have been wasted," New Mexico's governor said in remarks prepared for delivery Wednesday to New Hampshire educators. "We could use these resources to improve our schools and make the economy, once again, work for the middle class."

Richardson proposed an extended school year, a longer school day and a complete repeal of President Bush's No Child Left Behind plan. He also pledged to seek a federal minimum wage of $40,000 for teachers. The average first-year teacher earned $31,753 in 2004-2005, according to the American Federation of Teachers' most recent survey.

"Too often, you've been ignored, taken for granted, underpaid and blamed," Richardson said in remarks obtained by The Associated Press. "It was Aristotle, 2,300 years ago, who wrote that the fate of nations depends more on educating youth than any other factor. Not the military. Not the political leadership. Not the economy."

Richardson's courtship of National Education Association members in the first primary state followed speeches from rival Democrat Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton this spring. Another Democratic candidate, Sen. Chris Dodd, planned to speak to the group on Thursday.

Richardson's pitch appealed to teachers' top interests: collective bargaining, increased funding and a focus on public schools.

"I believe that school reform should improve schools," he said. "But our nation's school reform has made our schools look more like reform schools, with all the mindless testing and bureaucratic rules and regulations."

Richardson ticked through his accomplishments as governor, including his Making Schools Work plan. That effort addresses not only classroom instruction but health and nutrition, parental involvement and clean schools.

"Our children can't learn if they aren't healthy," he said. "In New Mexico, we now provide access to free health insurance to every child under the age of 5. We have expanded our state immunization program. ... We've implemented statewide breakfast programs for our neediest kids. And we've gotten junk food out and put physical education back in."

Copyright 2007 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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