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Special Event

Bush Promotes Education Plan in Tennessee

Aired February 21, 2001 - 12:03 p.m. ET

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

DARYN KAGAN: We're going to take you live right now to Knoxville, Tennessee. That's where President Bush is today. He is speaking at Townsend Elementary School. Let's listen in.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: (JOINED IN PROGRESS) But the heart and soul of any education system, of course, is the teachers. And I want to thank those who are teaching. I'm sorry that my wife is not here with us today. If she were giving the speech -- and most of you, if you had heard both of us, would rather hear her...

(LAUGHTER)

... she would say that one of her missions will be to convince Americans who are coming up to be a teacher. There's nothing more noble than to teach. And so to the teachers of this school and the teachers throughout all of Tennessee, we thank you from the bottom of our hearts.

I also want to thank my friend, the governor of your state, Don Sundquist. He is a good man, and he married, like me, he married above himself.

(LAUGHTER)

But Laura and I love Don and Martha. They have been our friends for a long time. And I appreciate your hospitality.

I want to thank your senator, Bill Frist.

I'm particularly nice to Senator Frist these days, since much of what I am proposing is going to need to be passed out of the United States Senate. But I've got a strong ally in Senator Frist and a good friend.

I want to thank members of the Tennessee congressional delegation, Congressman Duncan and Jenkins and Van Hilleary for being here as well. I got to know these folks during the course of the campaign, and they were stalwarts. I also want to thank my friend, the chairman of the Education Committee from the state of Ohio, Congressman John Boehner. I am so thankful the chairman is here.

I'm going to be discussing education policy today, the framework for good policy, and it's going to require the leadership of John on the House side, and Frist and others on the Senate side, to get this bill through.

So, Mr. Chairman, thank you very much for being here. I'm surprised they didn't check you at the border coming in, but I'll let you on the plane so we can fly back together and talk policy.

I'm also most appreciative of the mayor of Knoxville, Tennessee, for being here. I've known Mayor Ashe for years and years and years and he has done a fabulous job of being a fine public servant in Knoxville.

So, Victor, thank you for coming.

And finally, a former public servant, a distinguished Tennessee citizen, a man whose son sees my daughter at the University of Texas, hopefully, in the library...

(LAUGHTER)

... and that's Lamar Alexander.

I want to thank these distinguished officials. I want to thank the local officials.

Senator, thank you, as well. Thank you for coming.

There is no more important subject than public education. We must get it right to make sure no child is left behind.

My philosophy is this: First, all of us in positions of responsibility must set the highest of high standards for every child. I believe every child can learn. And that ought to be indelibly etched into our national conscience, that every single child in America has got the capacity to learn, and we should accept nothing less.

And we must set high expectations for every child. We must raise the bar. I also strongly believe in local control of schools. I believe the best way to chart the path to excellence for every child in America is to insist that authority and responsibility be aligned at the local level.

(APPLAUSE)

So I look forward to working with the members of the House and the Senate to pass power out of Washington, to provide flexibility for the federal funds, so that the governors, superintendents, principals can design programs that meet your specific needs.

There's an old adage, "one size does not fit all." In public education, it is very true. It is very true. We have the same goal in Tennessee and Texas, and that is, every child learn. But we've got different issues in Texas than you have in Tennessee, and that's why we need to have flexibility.

The cornerstone of reform, as far as I'm concerned, is not only high standards and maximum flexibility, but strong accountability systems. I think it's so important to measure. I think it's a legitimate thing. I know it's a legitimate request from those us in public life to say, "If you receive taxpayers' money, you measure and you show us whether or not the children are learning."

I'm going to ask Congress to pass legislation that says, "In return for federal help, the state of Tennessee, local jurisdictions, must develop accountability measures on an annual basis, three through eight, to determine whether or not our children are learning." It is essential we do so.

Now, I know there are some around who will say, "We can't measure. It's not the proper role of the government." Well, I believe the proper role of any government at any level is to insist upon results.

Some will say, "Well, we can't have the test because all they'll do is teach the test." Well, I went to a writing class here in this school, and they were teaching the children to write. And therefore, they were able to pass the test. You don't teach the test when it comes to literacy.

We went to a classroom with Title I students in it, where the teacher was using some of the most advanced thought about teaching reading, a balanced approach including phonics.

You teach a child to read and he or her will be able to pass a literacy test. I don't buy teaching the test as an excuse to have a system that doesn't hold people accountable for results.

Finally, there are some who will say, "You can't test because it is a matter of race to test." I think it is a matter of race not to test. I think it's racist not to test, because oftentimes, in our school districts, those who are most easy to shuffle through are those who live in the inner cities or whose parents may not speak English as a first language.

No, we must measure because we want to know. We want to know when there is success.

When that teacher told me in that classroom, she said, "We're making great progress in our new reading program here. It's been in place for three years; we're making fine progress." We know because there is accountability. People should welcome accountability. It's a way to diagnose and to solve problems. It's a way to say that every single child matters in America and not one child ought to be left behind.

(APPLAUSE)

I don't support, my friends in Congress don't support, the design of a national test. All a national test will do is undermine local control of schools. But we look forward to working with states and local jurisdictions to develop accountability systems that meet your needs so we achieve what we want, and that is an education system focused on each individual, an education system that diagnoses early and solves problems early. Yesterday, I also outlined some funding priorities of mine. I'm going to submit a budget next week to the United States Congress. It's a budget that sets clear priorities.

A priority is going to be to make sure that our Social Security system and the payroll taxes are saved for Social Security and the Social Security system is strong. A priority will be Medicare.

A priority is going to be to make sure our troops are well-paid and well-housed and well-trained so that we can keep the peace.

A priority is going to be pay down debt. A priority is going to be tax relief so hard-working Americans have got more money in their pocket to pay down their own debt and to cover the cost of high energy costs.

Priorities can be public education, as well. As a matter of fact, in the budget I submit, the largest increase of any department will be for the Department of Education.

(APPLAUSE)

Federal funding for the Elementary and Secondary School Act, will go up by $1.6 billion, an 8 percent increase in funding. I think it's so important for us to prioritize public education. At the same time, we make it a priority of making sure our money is spent well. A priority has got to be diligence when it comes to taxpayers' money. And that's why I'm confident the combination of an increase in spending, coupled with education reform that holds people accountable is the right path for America to take.

And finally, yesterday, I proposed additional spending for a national reading initiative that will set this goal: every child be reading at the appropriate level by the third grade. It's going to require schools and districts willing to challenge the status quo, if children are failing.

It's going to mean we have to think differently about Head Start. Head Start should remain and will remain a place where children are treated for disease with a Health and Human Service component to it.

But I think Head Start ought to be moved to the Department of Education to highlight the need to make sure that our youngsters get a head start on reading and math.

(APPLAUSE)

The $1 billion a year additional money for the reading initiative will allow districts to access money for K-2 diagnostic testing, for curriculum development, for teacher training to make sure that the teacher I saw today, the skills that she has are given to all the teachers who are charged with teaching reading.

We got an aggressive program for public ed. It's a program, though, that has deep faith in the ability of local folks to make sure the children are educated. It's a program, the philosophy of which says that the people that care most about the children in towns in Tennessee are the citizens of towns of Tennessee, are the parents in towns in Tennessee, are those concerned folks who every day try to figure out how to make your community a better place to live.

The great strength of America lies in the hearts and souls...

KAGAN: We've been listening to President Bush as he visits and speaks at Townsend Elementary School in Townsend, Tennessee, very close to the Knoxville area. This is day two of the president being out on the trail, pushing his education proposals.

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