- The Washington Times - Saturday, January 3, 2004

CRAWFORD, Texas (AP) — Gearing up for a possible election-year fight on his education initiative, President Bush defended his “No Child Left Behind” law against critics who say it’s been shortchanged and assumes all students learn at the same rates.

“The time for excuses has passed,” Mr. Bush said yesterday in his weekly radio address.

Mr. Bush, who returned to the White House yesterday after spending the holidays at his Texas ranch, plans to mark the second anniversary of the initiative during speeches at an elementary school in St. Louis tomorrow and one in Knoxville, Tenn., on Thursday.

Mr. Bush and other Republicans say the law, which the president signed on Jan. 8, 2002, expands testing and toughens standards for teachers, schools and students.

The initiative, however, has lost the support of some Democrats who say too little money has been spent on the mandated actions. Critics have argued that the funding increases Mr. Bush touts aren’t nearly enough to cover the costs of the new requirements, including the expense of creating tests and processing their results.

Congressional Democrats have tried without success to provide billions of dollars of additional funding.

In the weekly Democratic radio address, Rep. Timothy H. Bishop, New York Democrat, said this year’s congressional agenda needs to include more money for “No Child Left Behind.”

“Improving education is an American priority,” Mr. Bishop said. “But last year, it was left under-funded by more than $8 billion. This gap has placed a great burden on our educators and local school taxes.”

Critics also say that the way the federal grading system works isn’t fair in some cases because it requires yearly progress not just from a school, but from every subgroup of students, including those with disabilities or ones who speak English as a second language.

Mr. Bush, however, defended the ambitious standards.

“Some critics have objected to these reforms because they believe our expectations are too high, or that it is unfair to hold all students to the same standards regardless of background, or that we’re punishing schools that are not making progress,” he said.

“Our reforms insist on high standards because we know every child can learn. Our reforms call for testing because the worst discrimination is to ignore a school’s failure to teach every child.”

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