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Bush moves to increase federal spending on education

"We must get it right to make sure no child is left behind," Bush said  

TOWNSEND, Tennessee (CNN) -- President Bush's 2002 budget will include an additional $1.6 billion in federal support for elementary and secondary education programs, he said Wednesday.

The money will be part of an 11.5 percent increase in overall federal education spending, the largest proposed increase for any Cabinet agency. Bush will ask Congress to increase the allotment for elementary and secondary education from $18.2 billion in 2001 to $19.8 billion in 2002.

The funding "will allow districts to access money for K-through-2 diagnostic testing, for curriculum development, for teacher training," Bush said during an appearance at the elementary school in Townsend, just outside Smoky Mountain National Park southeast of Knoxville.

U.S. President George W. Bush talks about his reading initiative proposal

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"We've got an aggressive program for public education," he said. "It's a program, though, that has a deep faith in the ability of local folks to make sure that children are educated."

He repeated previously announced plans to give local school districts more flexibility in spending federal money. "The old adage 'one size does not fit all' -- in public education that is very true," he said.

If enacted, Bush's plan would increase overall Education Department spending from $39.9 billion in 2001 to $44.5 billion in 2002.

To assure that districts are using the money well, the president advocates math and reading testing for all students in grades three through eight. Wednesday, he defended that proposal against critics.

"People should welcome accountability," Bush said. "It's a way to diagnose and to solve problems. It's a way to say that every single child matters in America."

The administration hopes the increase in education spending will mollify Democrats and help win concessions from them on Bush's testing proposal, as well as on plans to provide either vouchers to students trapped in schools that fail to meet new federal standards or tax-law changes that would allow parents to set aside money on a tax-free basis for education expenses, including private school tuition.

Both of those points are strongly supported by conservative Republicans.

White House officials concede the education proposals will be among the toughest legislative battles, and one that conservative Republicans will use to measure Bush's commitment to conservative policies.

Bush also repeated proposals he made Tuesday in stops in Ohio and Missouri, including one to triple reading spending to $900 million in 2002 from $300 million in 2001.

CNN White House Correspondent Major Garrett contributed to this report

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