- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 16, 2008

CINCINNATI (AP) — John McCain is telling the NAACP he will expand education opportunities for children in failing schools.

McCain, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, on Wednesday is addressing the annual convention of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the nation’s oldest civil rights organization.

In excerpts released in advance of the speech, McCain says that the worst educational problems in the country are often found in schools in black communities and that as president he will provide greater school choices and scholarships for such students.

McCain also asks the group to excuse his absence from their convention last year, saying he was “a bit distracted” dealing with his then-faltering presidential campaign.

“If I am elected president, school choice for all who want it, an expansion of opportunity scholarships and alternative certification for teachers will all be part of a serious agenda of education reform,” McCain said in the excerpts.

“After decades of hearing the same big promises from the public education establishment, and seeing the same poor results, it is surely time to shake off old ways and to demand new reforms,” he said. “That isn’t just my opinion. It is the conviction of parents in poor neighborhoods across this nation who want better lives for their children.”

Ahead of the speech, campaign aides expected the Arizona senator to touch on his support for expanding merit-pay programs for teachers who improve students’ performance and more money for tutoring poor kids.

The national teachers’ unions oppose linking student test scores to teacher pay. McCain’s rival for the presidency, Democrat Barack Obama, supports the idea when teachers help negotiate and craft the merit-pay plans.

Last week, aides to McCain said he would increase the choices kids have when they are in schools that are failing to meet academic benchmarks and that he would support a school voucher program for poor children in failing schools under some circumstances.

Such vouchers are generally supported by conservatives and opposed by many Democrats.

Republicans have had a tough time winning the votes of African-Americans, and it is only getting tougher this year with Obama trying to become the first black president of the United States.

Obama spoke to the NAACP on Monday, saying he would push the government to provide more education and economic assistance, but he also urged blacks to demand more of themselves.

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