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Bush asks Urban League to help pass education bill

"Congress should get the job done," Bush said  

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- President Bush on Wednesday asked the National Urban League to help him push a stalled education bill through Congress, saying it is needed to avoid "personal tragedy and social injustice."

Speaking at the African-American civil rights group's 2001 conference in Washington, Bush outlined his reasons why nationwide education reforms are needed and how they might help improve social conditions.

Bush said two-thirds of African-American children in the fourth grade cannot read at their basic grade level, while for white children that figure is 27 percent.

"The gap is wide and troubling, and it's not getting any better," Bush said. "That gap leads to personal tragedy and social injustice."

Message Board: Changes in education  

The policy at many public schools of passing students who haven't learned the required curriculum, Bush said, amounts to "bigotry," and he called for an end to that policy.

The backbone of Bush's education proposal would allow local control of school curriculum, with the release of federal education funds hinging on the scholastic success or failure of each school based on statewide tests.

One of the issues that has delayed passage of the bill, which is currently in a House-Senate conference committee, is education accountability and the criteria that would be used to define a failed school.

"We're asking a lot of our schools and our teachers and our students," Bush said. "They have a big job ahead of them. And so do we here in Washington. And now's the time, Congress, to get the job done."

Rather than a standardized national test for schools, Bush -- with a caveat -- supports comparable state tests to measure school accountability.

"We must have independent evidence that state tests are rigorous and state tests are real," the president said.

Bush touched on a political battle over the issue of proposed government-funded school vouchers. Vouchers would allow students attending failing schools to attend more expensive private schools.

"If after three years nothing changes for students in a failing school, their parents must be given other options, like a transfer to a better public school or private tutoring."

Opponents of government-funded vouchers have said they would be too expensive and would take funding away from schools in poor areas that desperately need improvement. Because many private schools also are parochial, opponents also say vouchers could possibly create a constitutional problem regarding the required separation of church and state.

Before the congressional delay, the White House had expected the education bill to be passed last month. Now, because of the upcoming congressional summer recess, passage would be in September at the earliest.

• National Urban League
• National Education Association

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