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Bush touts his education agenda on radio

/ Source: The Associated Press

In a back-to-school message, President Bush says that while many public schools aren’t making the grade, he should get high marks from voters for the No Child Left Behind Act.

“We are leaving behind the broken system that shuffled children from grade to grade, even when they were not learning the basics,” Bush said Saturday in his weekly radio address. “We’re requiring regular testing, providing extra help for children falling behind. We’re giving information and options to parents. We are holding schools accountable for the progress of every child.”

He acknowledged that “some schools have catching up to do,” but said the federal government was making extra money available to schools that need the most help. To help disadvantaged students, Bush said the government had boosted aid to $12.3 billion, an increase of 41 percent since he took office.

Bush said one federal grant went to Asheville City Schools in North Carolina, the home district of Ira B. Jones Elementary School.

“Two years ago, Jones did not meet standards under the new law. So district leaders used more than $200,000 in federal aid to help Jones hire a reading coach, train additional teachers, increase parent involvement, and start an extended-day program for struggling students,” Bush said.

“This past school year, their efforts paid off. Jones met its target for yearly progress. This is how a fourth grade teacher described her reaction: ‘We screamed and yelled. We were absolutely thrilled.”’

Some surprised at Bush's words
J.B. Buxton, a former education adviser to Democratic North Carolina Gov. Mike Easley, said that while the state welcomes the federal money, state and local officials “would be amazed to hear the president taking credit for their progress.”

Buxton said the progress stems from a 10-year effort to improve accountability, teacher quality and early childhood classroom preparation. Buxton also credited a commitment by the governor in the past three years to reduce classroom size and a push by local officials to promote parental involvement and increase ongoing training for teachers.

Bush and Democratic challenger Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts have been running close nationally on the question of who would do a better job on education.

Last week, an interest group, funded in part by the nation’s largest teachers’ union, launched $2.5 million worth of new commercials assailing Bush’s education reform law.

Communities for Quality Education’s 30-second ads claim the 2001 law is shortchanging the nation’s schools by wasting money on bureaucracy, leaving classrooms overcrowded with fewer teachers and out-of-date books and materials.

Even though Kerry voted for No Child Left Behind, the commercials promote the Massachusetts senator saying he would add 500,000 new teachers and reduce class sizes to provide students with individual attention.

Kerry says Bush and Republicans in Congress have shortchanged the states by a combined $27 billion for the law, and he claims he would “fully fund” it by rolling back tax cuts for wealthier citizens. Bush’s campaign argues that federal education spending is at record levels under Bush, and Republicans say schools have enough money to satisfy the law’s requirements.