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Special Event

President Bush Unveils Education Plan

Aired January 23, 2001 - 1:09 p.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

NATALIE ALLEN, CNN ANCHOR: We want to, again, take you to the East Room, where we expect to see President Bush at any moment. He is just being introduced. So here he comes. He is with his education secretary, Rod Paige, the former school superintendent from Houston.

ROD PAIGE, EDUCATION SECRETARY: Good afternoon. It's an honor and privilege as well for me to be here at this important period in time. I've known President Bush for many years and have had the opportunity to work with him in Texas where he distinguished himself by his commitment to quality education in public schools. He got results in Texas as governor, and he'll get results across America as president.

Today, he takes the first step towards becoming the education president by proposing to the Congress a strong program to improve America's schools. As you will see, the program is based upon the sound principles of high standards, accountability and measurements for which he's always stood.

President Bush confirms that education is his priority as president -- first in time and first in importance. I'm humbled to introduce him and to pledge to work day and night to help get the results the president and America expects.

Mr. President?

(APPLAUSE)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Thank you. Thank you, Mr. Secretary. Appreciate you being here.

PAIGE: Thank you.

BUSH: And it's good to see a former secretary of education here.

Lamar, thank you very much for coming. Surrounded by two fine Texans, I might add.

(LAUGHTER)

You are in good position. I was going to say a rose between two thorns, but Diane, not the least -- she is not a thorn. She's a fabulous educator in the great state of Texas. Miller, on the other hand... (LAUGHTER)

At any rate, I'm glad you all are here. It's good to see so many faces of friends. Welcome you to our new temporary abode.

This is an important moment for my administration because I spent such a long amount of time campaigning on education reform. That's been the hallmark of my time as governor of Texas. My focus will be on making sure every child is educated, as the president of the United States, as well.

Both parties have been talking about education reform for quite a while. It's time to come together to get it done, so that we can truthfully say in America: No child will be left behind, not one single child.

We share a moment of exceptional promise: a new administration, a newly sworn in Congress. And we have a chance to think anew and act anew. All of us are impatient with the old lines of division. All of us want a different attitude here in the nation's capital. All in this room, as well as across the country, know things must change.

We must confront the scandal of illiteracy in America, seen most clearly in high-poverty schools where nearly 70 percent of fourth- graders are unable to read at a basic level.

We must address the low standing of American test scores amongst industrialized nations in math and science, the very subjects most likely to affect our future competitiveness. We must focus the spending of federal tax dollars on things that work. Too often, we have spent without regard for results, without judging success or failure from year to year.

We must face up to the plague of school violence. With an average of 3 million crimes committed against students and teachers inside public schools every year, that's unacceptable in our country.

Change will not come by adding a few new federal programs to the old. If we work only at the edges, our influence will be confined to the margins. We need real reform.

Change will not come by disdaining or dismantling the federal role of education. I believe strongly in local control of schools. I trust local folks to chart the path to excellence. But educational excellence for all is a national issue and at this moment is a presidential priority. I've seen how real education reform can lift up scores and schools and effectively change lives.

And real education reform reflects four basic commitments: First, children must be tested every year in reading and math, every single year. Not just in the third grade or the eighth grade, but in the third, fourth, fifth, sixth and seventh and eighth grade. I oppose a national test, one designed here in Washington, D.C., because I know it would undermine local control of schools and undermine state curricula. But states should test each student each year. Without yearly testing, we don't know who is falling behind and who needs help. Without yearly testing, too often we don't find failure until it is too late to fix.

Consider what some parents face under the current system in some states. The child may pass the third grade reading test. He or she gets in the eighth grade and, lo and behold, fails the eighth grade test. And the parent says, "Who do I hold accountable? What happened? My child was successful in the third and here he or she is in the eighth. What went wrong? How come? Where did the system let me down?" Too much precious time has lapsed in this case for us to achieve what we want: every child being able to learn.

Testing every child every year is the way to stop the cycle. We must care enough to ask how our children are doing. We must have the data to know how poor and minority children are doing, to see if we are closing the achievement gap in America.

Annual measurement is a special concern of mine. I understand it's crucial. It's a crucial part of a solid reform package. But the good news is, I'm not alone.

Take for example Congressman George Miller from California. Some might think it odd that a Republican president would be mentioning a Democrat member of the House, but he and I have had discussions already.

He understands the importance of strong accountability. And we're going to work together to make sure that it's an integral part of a reform package coming through the House and Senate.

Secondly, the agents of reform must be schools and school districts, not bureaucracy. Teachers and principals, local and state leaders, must have the responsibility to succeed and the flexibility to innovate. One size does not fit all when it comes to educating the children in America. School districts, school officials, educational entrepreneurs should not be hindered by excessive rules and red tape and regulation.

The principle here is a basic one: If local schools do not have the freedom to change, they cannot be held accountable for failing to change.

Authority and accountability must be aligned at the local level or schools will have a convenient excuse for failure: I would have done it this way, but some central office or Washington, D.C., caused me to do it another way.

Flexibility in education spending is a special concern of members of both parties with whom I discussed.

Today, I had a good meeting with the chairman of the Education Committee in the House, John Boehner. I know he shares my passion for flexibility at the local level, as do people like Senator Judd Gregg or Tim Hutchinson. Third, many of our schools, particularly low-income schools, will need help in the transition to higher standards. When a state sets standards, we must help schools achieve those standards. We must measure. We must know. And if a school or school district falls short, we must understand that help should be applied.

Senator Jeff Bingaman of New Mexico brought this up to our attention, about the need to make sure there's a transition period between the moment of consequence and the first indication of failure.

Once failing schools are identified, we will help them improve. We will help them help themselves.

Our goal is to improve public education. We want success. And when schools are willing to accept the reality that the accountability system points out, and are willing to change, we'll help them.

Fourth, American children must not be left in persistently dangerous or failing schools. When schools do not teach and will not change, parents and students must have other meaningful options. And when children and teenagers go to school afraid of being threatened or attacked or worse, our society must make it clear it's the ultimate betrayal of adult responsibility.

Parents and children who have only bad options must eventually get good options if we're to succeed all across the country.

There are differences of opinions about what those options should be. I made my opinion very clear in the course of the campaign. I'm going to take my opinion to the Hill and let folks debate it.

Today I was pleased to see that Senator Joe Lieberman brought up his plan that includes different options for parents. It's a great place to begin. He and I understand that an accountability system must have a consequence, otherwise it's not much of an accountability system.

These four principles are the guides to our education reform package. Yet today I'm offering more than principles. I'm sending a series of specific proposals to the United States Congress, my own blueprint for reform.

I want to begin our discussion in detail with the members of the House and the Senate, because I know we need to act by this summer so that the people at the local level can take our initiatives and plan for the school year beginning next fall.

I'm going to listen to suggestions from folks. If somebody's got a better idea, I hope they bring it forward, because the secretary and I will listen.

We've got one thing in mind: an education system that's responsive to the children, an education system that educates every child, an education system that I'm confident can exist, one that's based upon sound fundamental curriculum, one that starts teaching children to read early in life, one that focuses on systems that do work, one that heralds our teachers and makes sure they've got the necessary tools to teach, but one that says every child can learn.

In this great land called America, no child will be left behind.

It's an honor to be here. So thrilled you all came. God bless.

ALLEN: In the East Room, his first East Room appearance and the first legislation he is sending to Congress. He said, it's an important moment for his administration. He called it a presidential priority. He pointed out that in America's poorer schools, 70 percent of fourth graders are unable to read at the level they should be able to read at.

He said, let's focus on the spending of tax dollars on things that work. We need real reform.

He made four points: children must be nationally tested every year 3rd through 8th grade; that local school leaders need control over their schools and make their own decisions; that the federal government should help schools achieve high standard and have a transition period; and he talked about when schools fail three years in a row giving parents of those students in those schools, the money, federal money, to attend other schools, perhaps private school.

He mentioned Joe Lieberman who, as we mentioned, proposed a Democratic plan for improving education, which he said was similar. He looked forward to working with the opposing side, the Democrats, on trying to forge a solution.

We want to remind you Joe Lieberman will be on "WOLF BLITZER REPORTS" tonight at 8:00 p.m. Eastern.

Now, of these vouchers, supporter argue they would give parents more options and put pressure on public schools to improve. Critics, led by teachers union and their backers in Congress, counter that vouchers would siphon off much needed funds from the cash-strapped public school system, while benefiting only a small portion of the student population.

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