As developments in Iraq and the Middle East dominated President Bush’s attention, he tried to change the focus to his domestic agenda yesterday, saying the education law he championed is raising the bar for student achievement.
“The law sets a clear goal for American education: Every child, in every school, must perform at grade level in reading and math, which are the keys to all learning,” Mr. Bush said in his weekly radio address.
He made the address a day before his scheduled address to the nation tonight on television to update Americans on the situation in Iraq and his campaign against terror. It also was broadcast on the day that Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas resigned, which shocked the U.S.-led effort to achieve peace between Israelis and Palestinians.
In a new Time/CNN poll released yesterday, 71 percent of Americans surveyed believe the United States has handled the problems in Iraq well since major fighting ended, and 63 percent believe the nation was right to go to war.
The results were based on a telephone survey of 1,003 U.S. registered voters, conducted Wednesday and Thursday. The margin of error is plus or minus 3.1 percent.
The school initiative, a centerpiece of Mr. Bush’s domestic agenda, seeks to improve achievement, particularly among poor students, through expanded testing, tougher quality requirements for teachers, yearly monitoring of student progress and sanctions for schools that fail to improve.
Critics have attacked the initiative, largely because schools contend it demands too much without providing the extra money necessary to do it.
The law says it does not force any state or local school unit to spend any money or incur any costs not paid for under the law.
Nevertheless, attorneys for the National Education Association, the nation’s largest teachers union, say states must eat billions of dollars in new testing requirements, data collection and other services over several years rather than spending that money on other education costs.
“The ‘No Child Left Behind Act’ is raising standards for student achievement, giving parents more choices, requiring more accountability from schools and funding education at record levels,” Mr. Bush said.
California Gov. Gray Davis, a Democrat, said in response to the address that “key investments are not being made in education.”
“Now 46 states, including the Golden State, are hurting, and once again federal deficits are out of control,” Mr. Davis said.
All 50 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico submitted compliance plans approved by the Department of Education, the president said, and his proposed budget for next year would boost education payments to $53.1 billion, an increase of nearly $11 billion since he took office.
Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, Massachusetts Democrat, who formed an unlikely alliance with Mr. Bush to assure passage of the law, said $53.1 billion amounts to an insignificant increase of $26 million over last year.
“The hypocrisy is breathtaking, and the country shouldn’t be fooled by it,” said Mr. Kennedy, who has become one of Mr. Bush’s fiercest critics on education.
“For the millions of children the president’s budget on school reform leaves behind, he is actually practicing ‘the soft bigotry of low expectations’ that he always condemns.”
Joyce Howard Price contributed to this story.