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Bush Launches Ed Plan

This is a bit more specific, but still I don't have details on just what
the testing proposal will entail. More soon, Monty Neill

Updated 1:54 PM ET January 23, 2001
Bush Launches Education Plan
AP Education Writer

- President Bush,
seeking Democratic
support for an education
package submitted to
Congress on Tuesday,
promised more help to
troubled schools before
shifting more federal funds to private institutions.

"Our goal is to improve public education," Bush said in an
East Room send-off for an education agenda that centers
around vouchers for private school education, the most
divisive part of his program to hold public schools
accountable for student learning.

Bush said he wants to require annual state reading and
math tests for students in every grade in order to gather
reliable data on "who's falling behind and who needs

"Once failing schools are identified, we'll help them
improve. We'll help them help themselves," said Bush,
with Education Secretary-designate Rod Paige at his

In Bush's plan, his signature campaign issue, failing
schools have three years to get up to standards, so that
pupils are able to achieve, before federal funds are
stripped for other uses such as vouchers.

"When schools do not teach and will not change, parents
and students must have other meaningful options," Bush

"If somebody's got a better idea, I hope they bring it

Bush, who said he wanted legislation enacted by summer
so that school districts have time to implement reforms for
the 2001-02 academic year, met privately Tuesday
morning with top congressional Republicans and
Democrats who oversee education policy-making.

Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., said afterward that
despite differences over vouchers, Democrats are eager
to work with him on education.

"The areas which he pointed out where we are in
agreement, I thought were very substantial. I, for one, am
interested in getting some action" on education overhaul,
Kennedy said outside the West Wing.

"What is important today is that we have a president that
wants to make this a strong priority on education and I
think we have those that have leadership positions in the
House and Senate that want to work with him and get
something meaningful done," the Democrat said.

A Bush official, speaking on condition of anonymity
Monday, said Bush had decided on some changes to his
voucher plan to win over hostile Democrats.

Bush is proposing additional funding - beyond even what
he proposed during his campaign. Corrective measures
for such schools would include allowing students to use
federal money for transportation to a public school with a
better record. Removing the school principal would be
another second-year option.

Bush, who called education "the most fundamental of
American issues," is making education his first major
policy initiative. The plan mirrors his campaign platform -
a $47.6 billion plan to shape up failing schools, increase
the student-testing regimen, hand districts more control
over federal dollars and make sure all children can read
by age 9.

He also proposed to give $1,500 vouchers to the parents
of students in public schools that are deemed failures for
three years in a row. That money would help parents pay
to send their children to private schools, including
religious schools.

Democrats and some moderate Republicans in Congress
rushed this week to formally reject federally funded
vouchers. Roughly 20,000 children nationwide already
are using state-funded vouchers for nonpublic schools.

The rhetoric heated up over the voucher issue.

"There's so many areas of agreement, let's not get
sidetracked on the issue of vouchers, " said Jim Manley,
spokesman for Kennedy, the top Democrat on the
Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions

"This has been stamped a voucher program by the forces
that do not wish to see it succeed or do not wish to try
anything else," said Sen. Judd Gregg, R-N.H., a member
of the Senate committee that oversees education policy.
Gregg says Bush's plan is school choice for children
trapped in chronically low-performing schools.

Sen. Joseph Lieberman, D-Conn., the unsuccessful vice
presidential candidate and voucher supporter, and other
centrist Democrats are offering their own plan that cracks
down on failing schools - but excludes vouchers.

The Democratic approach, Lieberman said on ABC's
"Good Morning America," is to "pour more money into
poorer schools, give the teachers and principals more
flexibility on how they are going to use that money and ...
if they are not working, close the schools down and
radically restructure them, give parents an opportunity to
send their kids to a higher-performing public school"

Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, told ABC that
Bush wants to make all options available. "I think having
the ability to go to a better-performing public school is a
great option. But in some urban and some rural areas,
there may not be that option, there may not be a better
public school," she said.

Tuesday's ceremony, following morning meetings with top
lawmakers, marked Bush's second weekday on the job.
On Monday, he started his presidency by imposing strict
restrictions on U.S. funds to international family-planning
groups involved in abortion - pleasing his conservative
supporters but angering abortion-rights groups.

"Reading is the new civil right, the cornerstone of hope
and opportunity in America," he said.

Bush Faces Pressure Over Calif. (Next story)

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