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Bush upbeat about progress of education agenda

President Bush
President Bush greets supporters during education address in Connecticut.  

NEW BRITAIN, Connecticut (CNN) -- Hitting the road to build support for his education reform plan, President Bush told an audience at Central Connecticut State University that he and Senate lawmakers have agreed on "some core principles."

"We haven't agreed 100 percent all across the board, but we're making good progress," said Bush, previewing the education bill the Senate is expected to take up next week.

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The president highlighted areas of agreement, such as giving states more flexibility over how to spend federal dollars, annual testing of students in math and reading in grades three through eight, and providing parents with "more options" if their kids are in failing schools.

"When we find the schools won't change their teaching methodologies, for example, when they can't meet standards," Bush said parents should have "options such as charter schools or public school choice or private tutoring programs."

What Bush did not say is that his proposal to provide so-called vouchers to parents with children in failing public schools to send their children to private schools is not included in the Senate bill.

Democrats, although conceding there has been broad agreement, said Wednesday that there could be "no final deal" until there is "final agreement" on a "significant increase" in federal funding, Jim Manley, spokesman for Sen. Ted Kennedy, D-Massachusetts, told CNN.

Bush's budget includes an 11.5 percent hike in spending on education, the biggest increase in spending for any department in the 2002 budget.

But Manley said the true increase, once you remove "accounting tricks" such as cost of living adjustments, is really 5.9 percent.

While the White House is holding firm that its budget increases spending on education by 11.5 percent, the administration acknowledges that there is still work that needs to be done to get an agreement, said Scott McClellan, White House deputy press secretary.

Bush cited national test scores, released two weeks ago, which showed that American fourth graders are "reading no better on average" than fourth graders did eight years ago.

"Folks, we've got to do something about it in America," said the president. "It's time to stop talking, and it's time to start doing something about it."

Bush saluted the help of Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut, the former Democratic vice presidential nominee, in helping to bring about agreement on key parts of the administration's education reform plan.

"Oh, I know that may surprise some in Connecticut or elsewhere in America to hear me say something nice about a man that tried to prevent me from becoming the president," said Bush. "But nevertheless, like me, he's put aside the election, and he's focusing on what's right for America."

White House aides said that Lieberman and fellow Sen. Chris Dodd, D-Conn., were invited to join the president on his trip Wednesday, but that they declined to attend.

Joining the president were Reps. Nancy Johnson and Chris Shays, both Republicans from Connecticut.

Bush first traveled to Waterbury to tour an elementary school, before heading to New Britain to deliver remarks at the university.

He returns to Washington Wednesday afternoon and plans to tour, along with first lady Laura Bush, the U.S. Holocaust Museum on Wednesday evening.



RELATED STORIES:
Bush takes his education plan to the public (January 26, 2001)
Bush begins term with an eye on the classroom (January 22, 2001)

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