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BUSH urges Congress to pass education bill

Updated:
KENNEBUNKPORT, Maine (AP) _ Quick approval of the administration's education blueprint is a final exam Congress must pass before it recesses for the summer, President Bush said Saturday.

``We need to act quickly because states and schools must make decisions on how to use their new flexibility and live up to their new responsibility,'' Bush said in his weekly radio address, recorded at the stone-and-shingle home that has been his family's summer retreat for a century.

The day after celebrating his 55th birthday at a family dinner, the 43rd president played a second round of golf Saturday with his father, the 41st president. On Friday, both sported caps embroidered with their respective numbers.

They were joined at a local golf course Saturday morning by the president's brother, Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, and a cousin, Hap Ellis.

On the first tee, President Bush said that after the game he would receive a national security briefing and then meet with Chief of Staff Andrew Card before spending ``a little quality time with my family.''

``The amazing thing about this job though is the job seems to follow you around,'' the president said.

When asked if he'd been anxious to get out of Washington for a few days, Bush smiled and said ``well spoken.''

Spokesman Ari Fleischer said Bush plans a series of events to prod Congress into acting soon on issues central to his agenda that he believes have been relegated to the back burner.

Fleischer said these include education, the patients' bill of rights and Bush's proposal to broaden the participation of religious groups in government social welfare programs.

In the radio address, Bush said rapid movement on his education initiative is a vital first step.

``Completing the work of education reform is a final exam for Congress before they go home in August for summer vacation and before America's school children go back to school,'' he said.

Bush's proposed education plan seeks to use federal aid as a carrot to improve failing schools. The measure, approved in separate versions by the House and Senate, brings several major changes to the federal system, foremost among them the requirement that schools annually test students in math and reading in grades three through eight and once in high school.

If scores don't improve, schools would be eligible for higher federal aid. But pupils at schools in which scores don't improve could use some federal money for tutoring or transportation to another public school.

The bill also provides more money for charter schools and requires school districts to develop report cards that show a school's test scores compared to others locally and statewide. It provides nearly $5 billion over five years to improve students' reading skills, with a goal of making sure every youngster can read by third grade.

All schools would get more flexibility in their use of federal funds, while a small number of states and school districts could compete for a pilot program giving them even fewer restrictions.

Differences between the House and Senate versions of the education bills are small and can be bridged, Bush contended.

``Both bills call for strong accountability,'' he said. ``The Senate bill gives states more flexibility. The House bill is more fiscally responsible and focuses federal dollars where they will do the most good.''

``This is summer vacation for our children, and it can be a season of accomplishment for our nation's leaders,'' Bush said. ``I urge Congress to act swiftly on my education reform plan.''

After 18 holes of golf Friday morning, Bush got birthday congratulations in a phone call with Soviet President Vladimir Putin. Venturing into the Atlantic off the family compound on Walker's Point, he spent much of the afternoon fishing and relaxing with family members.

``I'm going to throw some horseshoes, probably regain the family championship,'' Bush told reporters with a grin.

``I might go for a jog to complete the day,'' he added. ``So if you see a rather old guy, kind of moving along slowly, that will be me.''
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