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President seeks $$ for poor children

But Demos say small amount will leave many behind

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CRAWFORD, Texas — President Bush said Saturday he will ask Congress to increase by $1 billion the federal money devoted to teaching poor children, but Democrats charged that the amount fell short of the White House pledge last year that no children would be left behind.

In his weekly radio address, Bush said he wanted to continue the progress begun a year ago through the No Child Left Behind Act, which increased government spending on schools and required states to test student performance yearly.

"Too many students and lower-income families fall behind early, resulting in a terrible gap in test scores between these students and their more fortunate peers," Bush said. "Our reforms will not be complete until every child in America has an equal chance to succeed in school and rise in the world."

With the president ending a two-week vacation and Congress returning to Washington this week, the White House is beginning to unveil administration priorities for the next budget year. Bush, while focusing on global problems, will deliver a series of spending proposals leading up to the State of the Union Address later this month.

Democrats who supported the president's school-spending plan last year said the administration has not followed through on its promises to help cash-strapped states pay for the testing programs. Bush's proposed increase is $6 billion less than the legislation initially called for, said Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass.

"Reform without resources is just hollow talk — not the real improvement our children need and deserve," said Kennedy, the leading Democratic backer of Bush's plan in 2002. "The president's proposal may provide the money to test our children, but not enough to teach them. It's wrong to ask schools to do better on pocket change, especially as states face $68 billion shortfalls."

The law allowed students to move to a different public school if their own school fell below state standards. The government required schools to administer three tests in reading and math and if student scores were poor, schools would get more money. But after three years, the school districts must offer tutoring. After the fourth year, schools must find the money to pay students to be moved to other schools. Many states, facing severe budget shortfalls, are struggling to implement the law.

White House officials said the president's request to Congress next month will include $12.3 billion in the 2004 budget for the federal Title I program for low-income students. That amount would be the largest total amount in the program's history, the president said, defending the program in his radio address.

"Across America, states and school districts are working hard to implement these reforms," Bush said. "They are developing accountability plans and beginning innovative tutoring plans."

The president said that in the last two years his administration has increased all federal spending for schools by 40 percent, to more than $22 billion in the current school year, but critics said Bush had not kept one of the main promises of his campaign.

"The administration's total request is only two-thirds of the full amount trumpeted when the new law was signed," said Christopher Edley Jr., a director of The Civil Rights Project at Harvard University. "That statute has innumerable expensive ambitions, which are, for better and worse, shock therapy for ailing schools and districts."