IN radio address, Bush urges Congress to pass education spending plan

Saturday, September 8th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) _ President Bush pressed the case for his education plan Saturday, telling lawmakers that stalling on changes to the public school system in a bid to increase his proposed spending is ``a tactic of the past'' that ultimately fails America's students.

In keeping with a weeklong focus on reading, Bush used his weekly radio address to pitch the first National Book Festival being held at the Library of Congress. The festival highlights the importance of reading and libraries and is patterned after the Texas Book Festival that first lady Laura Bush championed when Bush was the state's governor.

``She and I and my entire administration believe that teaching every child to read is critical to making sure every child has the opportunity to realize the American Dream,'' the president said.

He bemoaned test results released earlier this year showing inadequate reading skills among black fourth-graders and ``basically unimproved'' reading performance among all students over the past decade.

``When this skill is not taught, a child has not failed the system, the system has failed the child,'' Bush said. ``And that child is often put on a path to frustration and broken confidence.''

Bush's budget includes $5 billion over five years to make sure all children are reading by the third grade. He has pushed for private school vouchers, which would allow students in failing schools to use as much as $1,500 in federal money for private or parochial school tuition.

That idea was defeated in Congress last spring after teachers' unions and many Democrats fought it, saying vouchers would drain money from public schools.

The Senate and House are trying to reconcile differing versions of education legislation. The Senate bill authorizes $31.7 billion for education programs, while the House measure calls for $22.9 billion, $4.9 billion more than the current budget.

Bush said he has advocated spending more for reading programs, but he drew the line at larger overall increases, saying that would not be possible without dipping into the Social Security surplus.

``Some, for whom the increases this year may not be enough, are threatening to stall these much needed reforms,'' he said. ``That is a tactic of the past in Washington that has neither worked for our country nor, more sadly, for our children. ... The American people are counting on us to deliver on our promise of reform for the public schools.''

Bush planned to continue his reading pitch by visiting schools in Jacksonville and Sarasota, Fla., on Monday and Tuesday with Education Secretary Rod Paige. On Thursday, Bush is to address the White House Assembly on Reading at the Library of Congress.

Other Cabinet members also are traveling around the country next week to advocate reading, taking time to read to elementary school classes. And Mrs. Bush, a former school librarian, will testify before the Senate Education Committee on Tuesday about the development of early childhood cognitive skills.

The Bushes began the campaign Friday night by attending a National Book Festival gala at the Library of Congress.