GREENSBORO, N.C. - Gov. George W. Bush continued his post-primary move to the political center Thursday, striking bipartisan themes as he told teachers and campaign donors about the importance of improving education for minorities and poor children.
"We need to check partisanship at the door when it comes to educating our children," said Mr. Bush, the likely Republican nominee for president. "A leader says, 'I'm going to change the tone.' "
But Mr. Bush again attacked his probable Democratic opponent, Vice President Al Gore, at a news conference held after his speech on education. He vowed to defend himself against Mr. Gore's criticisms, which he said have been inaccurate.
"He does like to call people names, that's for sure," Mr. Bush said. "It says he's not very confident in his own agenda, and that's fine."
The governor's record on education has come under fire by Mr. Gore, who says Mr. Bush has exaggerated his role in recent gains by Texas public schools. The state's teachers are divided on his record on education, with some thankful to have Mr. Bush's support on key programs and others saying they are disappointed that Mr. Bush has not offered statewide solutions to problems such as teacher shortages.
His address Thursday at a conference hosted by the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction was part of a recent effort to tout his education record in Texas.
Sandy Kress, a former chairman of the Dallas County Democratic Party and the Texas representative on the Education Commission of the States, said Mr. Bush has provided strong leadership on school issues in Texas. He would bring the same energy and commitment to Washington, said Mr. Kress, who appeared at the news conference with Mr. Bush.
"Governor Bush has been the leader of the most significant school reform movement in the country," he said. "He will be fabulous on this issue."
The governor said he would work to close the "achievement gap" between white and minority children and would demand "excellence from every child." He said he would hold school districts responsible for poor-performing students and keep as much control as possible in the hands of local officials.
"The best education reforms - they don't come from Washington, D.C.," Mr. Bush said. "The best education reforms bubble up from the bottom of society."
Mr. Bush did not mention his support of vouchers, which some have argued harm public schools by draining money away from them. Mr. Bush's limited voucher program - in which public funds would be used to pay tuition at private schools for low-income students - did not pass in Texas, but his campaign has said he would support a similar measure at the national level.
Mr. Kress' appearance and endorsement of Mr. Bush was part of the bipartisan theme emphasized by the Bush campaign in recent days. The governor renewed his promise to "change the tone" in Washington and told a crowd of $1,000-a-plate donors that he would reform the tax code to help the working poor.