President Pledges Boost for Education

Article excerpt

TOWNSEND, Tenn. - President Bush announced yesterday he will ask Congress to increase spending on education by more than 11 percent next year - the largest proposed increase for any Cabinet department the president will include in the budget plan he submits next week.

His proposal to boost spending by $4.6 billion will include an additional $1.6 billion for elementary and secondary education, an 8 percent increase over this year.

"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," Mr. Bush told a small gathering of teachers and students in the gymnasium of Townsend Elementary School, about 30 miles south of Knoxville in the Smoky Mountains.

"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," he said.

Under his plan, discretionary spending on education will increase from $39.9 billion to $44.5 billion - an 11.5 percent increase - in the 2002 fiscal year, which begins Oct. 1.

Neither Mr. Bush nor administration officials would say exactly how the money would be spent. But one Bush aide said some would be used to fund a $600 million increase for reading programs - announced by Mr. Bush on Tuesday - and some would go for such programs as teacher training, aid to disadvantaged students, school safety and English fluency.

During the campaign, Mr. Bush promised to increase federal education spending by $47.5 billion over 10 years.

The president has taken to the road this week to explain the priorities he will lay out in the budget proposal he will submit to Congress on Wednesday, the day after he addresses a joint session. Throughout his trip, the president has trumpeted local control of some functions now handled by the federal government.

"I 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," he said.

He also realizes he needs help in Congress to get his plan through, which prompted him to single out Sen. Bill Frist, Tennessee Republican, at yesterday's event. "I'm particularly nice to Senator Frist these days, since much of what I'm proposing is going to need to be passed out of the United States Senate."

Mr. Frist later said Mr. Bush's plan would get rid of the "red tape" of the bureaucratic Education Department by "streamlining" dozens of programs into just a handful.

The president will need to persuade some in his party that the Department of Education can be fixed. …