- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 12, 2004

HARRISBURG, Pa. — President Bush told a gymnasium full of high school students yesterday that he has increased federal funding for education, but expects accountability to ensure schools aren’t “just shuffling kids through the system.”

Mr. Bush urged students at Central Dauphin High School to take advantage of educational opportunities so they can acquire the “skill sets” needed to qualify for thousands of “unbelievable job opportunities that are going to exist.”

As “we overcome recession and war and emergency, we better make sure we have a work force that is prepared for the higher-paying jobs of the 21st century,” Mr. Bush said in his 25th visit to Pennsylvania since he took office in 2001 — the most of any state other than his home of Texas.

Mr. Bush lost Pennsylvania to Al Gore in 2000 by 201,000 votes, or 4 percent, and his campaign believes a win in this traditional Democratic territory would help seal electoral victory in the November general election. The GOP has not won a presidential race here since Mr. Bush’s father in 1988.

Democrats have hammered Mr. Bush for the loss of more than 2 million jobs since he entered the White House. The Bush administration has contended that a slow economic recovery is under way, pointing to 112,000 jobs created in January.

Mr. Bush credited his tax cuts with spurring an economy battered by the September 11 attacks, corporate scandals and the war in Iraq. He asked for help to make them permanent, rather than slowly phasing them out in the next 10 years.

“We need to act to make sure there are more jobs at home and people are more likely to retain a job,” Mr. Bush said.

Barbara Hasson, superintendent of the Central Dauphin School District, said the district’s students were making “phenomenal gains” in test scores, but voiced a complaint about Mr. Bush’s education policy when she joined the president on stage.

“We want to thank you for the push, but we need a little more money,” said Mrs. Hasson.

A surprised Mr. Bush smiled and replied, “let me see here,” to the laughter of the crowd.

“I think we’re doing our responsibility here at the federal level,” Mr. Bush continued. “Most funding should be at the state and local level in order to make sure you have local control of schools.”

Mr. Bush also touted his $500 million proposal for new job-training and education programs.

“It used to be, you [could] crank somebody out of high school, and if they could run a backhoe, that’s going to be fine,” Mr. Bush said. “And there’s nothing wrong with backhoe drivers, we’re going to need them. But we’re also going to need computer programmers or people working in the health sciences.”

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