updated 7/9/2008 11:45:11 AM ET 2008-07-09T15:45:11

Sen. John McCain intends to talk about how teachers are paid and tutoring for poor kids when he speaks at a civil rights group's convention next week.

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The likely Republican presidential nominee was not expected to roll out an education platform until the end of the summer, but his remarks July 16 to the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People annual meeting in Cincinnati were expected to touch on his support for expanding merit-pay programs for teachers who improve their students' academic performance.

McCain education adviser Lisa Keegan told The Associated Press on Tuesday that the Arizona senator decided his appearance before the NAACP was the right opportunity to talk about America's schools.

Keegan said McCain supports changes but not a scrapping of President George W. Bush's signature No Child Left Behind education law. It was enacted in 2002 with the stated goal of getting all students reading and doing math at their proper grade levels by 2013-2014. Schools must test kids in those subjects and face consequences such as replacing staff for scores that fall short of state goals.

Unlike Democratic candidate Barack Obama, McCain is not calling for increasing the roughly $23 billion the federal government now spends to implement the law. Much of that goes toward educating poor children.

Keegan said McCain would reallocate how the money is spent. For example, more would go toward merit-pay programs for teachers. School districts are increasingly experimenting with programs like that, in part because of a Bush administration program that helps pay for the initiatives.

The national teachers' unions oppose linking student test scores to teacher pay. Obama supports the idea when teachers help negotiate and craft the merit-pay plans.

McCain also will discuss allowing poor students to get academic tutoring with federal money more quickly than is allowed under the education law. "The senator is very impatient for kids to have interventions when they need it," Keegan said.

McCain also would increase the choices kids have when they are in schools that are failing to meet academic benchmarks, Keegan said, adding that he would support a school voucher program for poor children in failing schools under some circumstances.

Vouchers, generally supported by conservatives and opposed by many Democrats, can be politically divisive. "He would not take that option off the table," Keegan said. "We are failing all over the place."

Obama has called for changes to the law, though he also has expressed support for some aspects of it. He says the federal government hasn't adequately funded the law. Obama, who is aiming to become the first black U.S. president, also is speaking before the NAACP next week.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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