OWENSBORO, Ky. (AP) â€” President Clinton kicked off a two-day education tour here today, reading the classic ``Charlotte's Web'' with fourth-graders to underscore Kentucky's success in turning around schools where most students â€” and academic performances â€” were poor.
Clinton toured the 450-student Audubon Elementary School, now ranked second statewide in writing proficiency. Here, 57 percent of students are identified as highly skilled at writing, up from 12 percent in 1994. Similarly, 70 percent of students are proficient at reading, up from 5 percent in 1994, and 64 percent are performing well at science, an area none were able to master six years ago.
The success has been attributed to standards implemented by Gov. Paul Patton that routed resources into Audubon and other schools in high poverty areas. Using federal funds, Audubon hired new teachers and pared class sizes down to 15 to 22 students.
Among those hired was Crystal Davidson, who teaches third- and fourth-grades. Clinton led her class in a reading comprehension exercise, having students take turns reading passages from Charlotte's Web and explaining the tougher words like ``exertion'' and ``bewilderment.''
``Very good. That's very good,'' Clinton told the children. The session was carried live on local television stations.
Later today, Clinton was taking his tour to Davenport, Iowa. On Thursday, he was visiting schools in St. Paul, Minn. and Columbus, Ohio, then returning to Washington.
Clinton hopes the tour will call attention Congress to his $250 million Education Accountability Fund, which would provide resources for states to use in improving failing schools. But he also provided a campaign springboard for Vice President Al Gore, who was to discuss education issues on Friday in Michigan.
The president's tour added more fuel to his election-year fight with Republicans over budget priorities and the ever-growing federal surplus. Last month, the House and Senate approved a $1.83 trillion package that includes large tax cuts and reductions in many domestic programs.
Within that fight is another skirmish over GOP-backed measure to provide vouchers for poor families to finance private or parochial school if they want to take their children out of a failing public school. Clinton advocates national standards and charter schools, which are public schools created by parents and teachers and run with exemptions from most state laws and regulations.
The Republican National Committee criticized Clinton's agenda as a formula for centralizing federal control over local schools and a concession to teacher unions.
``Bill Clinton and Al Gore are so beholden to partisan teachers' bosses that they refuse to take control, or money, out of Washington,'' said RNC spokesman Chris Paulitz. ``Gov. Bush and Republicans believe the power to reform education belongs in the hands of people who know our children's names.''
House Education Committee Chairman Bill Goodling, R-Pa., called Clinton's effort to recognize education reform in places like Kentucky ``appropriate.'' But he dimissed an aspect of Clinton's proposal that blocks parents from transferring their children from poor-performing schools for three years.
``Those are three years in which the die is cast as to whether the child will ultimately succeed or fail academically,'' Goodling said. ``I am not willing to take those risks with the children who will be the future of our nation.''
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