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Laura Bush touts husband's education record in convention speech

Laura Bush
Laura Bush said Monday that as president her husband would push for a $5 billion initiative to make sure all children could read at their designated grade level by third grade.  

PHILADELPHIA (CNN) -- Laura Bush made her debut before a national audience Monday night at the Republican National Convention, touting her husband's record on education as governor of Texas and promising he would do the same as president.

"I watched my husband make a difference as governor, not by giving one speech about reading, but by giving 100 speeches about reading -- directing time, money and resources to our schools," the wife of the soon-to-be-official GOP presidential nominee said.

Her speech, and a widely awaited appearance by retired Gen. Colin Powell capped the first night of the GOP gathering, where Texas Gov. George W. Bush was to accept the party's nomination for president Thursday. The night's speakers concentrated on the topics of health care and education, gathering around the theme of "Opportunity With a Purpose: Leave No Child Behind."

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Laura Bush speaks to the Republican National Convention - part 1 (July 31)

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Laura Bush speaks to the Republican National Convention - part 2 (July 31)

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Colin Powell speaks to the Republican National Convention - Part 1

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Colin Powell speaks to the Republican National Convention - Part 2

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CNN's Bernard Shaw takes a closer look a the life of Laura Bush

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Mrs. Bush said her husband would strengthen the Head Start program, the federal program that provides low-income children with early childhood education -- a cause the former teacher and librarian said she would champion as first lady. She added that the Texas governor would also push for a $5 billion initiative to make sure all children could read at their designated grade level by third grade.

"We wanted to teach our children what our parents taught us -- that reading is entertaining and important and fun," she said of the couple's parenting philosophy. "One of the major reasons George is running for president is to make sure every child in America has that same opportunity."

Mrs. Bush was joined at Philadelphia's Comcast First Union Center by a group of students from the KIPP Academy, a Houston charter school. The school's name is an acronym for the "Knowledge is Power Program."

Mrs. Bush was met with cheers and applause between nearly every paragraph of her remarks: As she spoke, delegates waved placards reading "We love Laura," "First lady Laura Bush" or simply, "Laura Laura Laura." Following her speech, Bush -- who appeared via satellite from Columbus, Ohio -- praised her as "the best speaker in our family."

Citing a recent study that found Texas student achievement has improved across a wide spectrum of students, Mrs. Bush said that as first lady she would make early childhood education and literacy a top priority while her husband worked to improve schools nationwide.

"It happened because George led the way, focusing state money and schools' attention on reading. We developed a rigorous research-based curriculum. We funded intensive in-school, after-school and summer school reading intervention programs. We improved teacher training," she said. "That's the kind of discipline and commitment George will bring to the presidency. He'll set great goals, and he'll work tirelessly to achieve them."

The former Laura Welch met Bush in 1977 in her hometown of Midland, Texas, where Bush had spent much of his youth and was trying to break into the oil business. The couple was married within six months of their first meeting. They have two twin daughters, Barbara and Jenna, who have kept a low public profile as their father runs for office.

'I Love Laura' sign
Mrs. Bush received a warm welcome in her debut before a national audience Monday night at the Republican National Convention.  

Mrs. Bush left the soon-to-be-official nominee at a campaign stop in Dayton, Ohio, on Monday, where he was conducting a campaign swing through states President Clinton carried in 1996. In one of the few references to Bush's Democratic rival, Vice President Al Gore, Mrs. Bush noted that Gore has occasionally visited schools and stayed overnight at teachers' homes.

"Well, George spends every night with a teacher," she said. And in a common GOP jab at the travails of President Clinton, she said voters the couple meets tell the Texas governor, "I want my son or daughter to respect the president of the United States."

"The president is the most visible symbol of our country, of its heart and its values and its leadership in the world," she said. "And when Americans vote this November, they will be looking to uphold that high honor and public trust."


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