WASHINGTON — Lawmakers should stop stalling final action on the White House's education plan in their bid to increase school spending, President Bush said Saturday. Such efforts, he said, are a fruitless "tactic of the past."
The president's budget, however, does not provide the money needed to improve education and meet the expectations raised by his education package, said the National Education Association, the nation's largest teachers' union.
Bush opened his weekly radio address by praising the efforts of first lady Laura Bush, a former school librarian, to promote reading at the National Book Festival, held Saturday at the Library of Congress. "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.
The book festival and the radio address marked the opening of an administration effort over the next few days to highlight the importance of reading skills, advance the president's plan to toughen classroom standards and push his education bill to final passage.
Bush planned to renew his education message in appearances on Monday and Tuesday in public schools in Jacksonville and Sarasota, Fla., joined by Education Secretary Rod Paige. On Thursday, Bush will address the White House Assembly on Reading at the Library of Congress.
Other Cabinet members are traveling around the country in support. On Tuesday, Laura Bush will testify before the Senate Education Committee about the development of early childhood learning skills.
In the radio address, Bush deplored test results released earlier this year showing inadequate reading skills among black fourth-graders and essentially unimproved reading skills among all students over the past decade. Bush's budget for the fiscal year beginning Oct. 1 includes $5 billion over five years in an effort to assure all children are reading by the third grade.
The Senate bill authorizes $31.7 billion for education programs. The House measure calls for $22.9 billion, $4.9 billion more than the budget.
Bush has said that while he advocates spending more for reading programs, larger overall increases are not 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. That is a tactic of the past in Washington that has neither worked for our country nor, more sadly, for our children. After years of debate, the American people are counting on us to deliver on our promise of reform for the public schools." The teachers' union said that teaching reading and improving the effectiveness of teaching will "require more than well-intentioned speeches."
"President Bush can best advance public education and reading by funding the programs that make a real difference in student learning," said Bob Chase, the NEA's president.
"While we appreciate the focus he's bringing to education, delivering the individualized attention to students necessary to meet the expectations of the bill requires resources that aren't currently available in the president's budget," Chase said.
On the Net: National Book Festival: www.loc.gov/bookfest/
National Education Association: www.nea.org