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Published in Print: April 5, 2000, as Bush Offers Proposals On Reading, Teacher Quality

Bush Offers Proposals On Reading, Teacher Quality

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Raising the ante for his education agenda, Gov. George W. Bush of Texas unveiled two new campaign proposals last week designed to help students read by the 3rd grade and improve the quality of the nation's teachers.

"I am committed to giving every American child the best possible start toward the American dream by teaching every child to read," Mr. Bush, who has won enough delegates to secure the Republican presidential nomination, said in a March 28 speech announcing the reading plan.

Two days later, he announced the teacher-quality plan.

The reading proposal would provide $5 billion over five years for the early diagnosis of reading skills in grades K-2, teacher training in reading instruction, and intervention efforts to help children learn to read, such as tutoring, after-school, and summer programs. The bulk of the funding, $900 million a year, would go toward providing such intervention programs for roughly 900,000 disadvantaged students.

The announcement marked Mr. Bush's first specific policy proposal of the campaign on how schools should educate students. Until last week, Mr. Bush's campaign platform in education had focused on holding schools more accountable for student performance overall, and on giving states and school districts more flexibility in how they spend federal money.

The teacher proposal—which would add $2.9 billion in new spending over five years—includes a plan to consolidate several existing programs into a flexible pot of funding for recruiting, hiring, and training teachers. The proposal bears a close resemblance to GOP legislation introduced in Congress.

Gov. Bush's plan would also step up spending for the federal Troops-to-Teachers program, provide tax incentives to help teachers cover the cost of school supplies, and provide teachers with legal protection from "meritless" lawsuits when they enforced "reasonable" classroom rules.

Together, the new proposals substantially increase the cost of Mr. Bush's plan for improving the nation's schools. Before last week, he had called for increasing federal spending by a total of $5.5 billion over five years. Now, the total is $13.5 billion.

A senior campaign adviser to Vice President Al Gore, the presumptive Democratic nominee, argued last week that the governor's proposed federal income-tax cut—amounting to $483 billion over five years—would make such new programs impossible.

The total cost of Mr. Bush's proposed initiatives falls far short of the $115 billion increase over 10 years Mr. Gore has outlined in his campaign proposals to pay for universal preschool, expanded after-school programs, new teacher-quality measures, and class-size reduction, among other ideas.

"Governor Bush offers a far less comprehensive plan," the vice president's adviser, Jonathan H. Schnur, said.

A Federal Matter?

Mr. Bush's reading proposal, modeled after a program he initiated in Texas, sets out a number of requirements for states wishing to participate. Those include diagnosing the reading skills of K-2 pupils, testing students in reading each year in grades 3-8, and using a reading curriculum that includes elements based on the recent findings of the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development.

G. Reid Lyon, the chief of the child-health and -behavior branch of the NICHD, said he believes Gov. Bush is taking a sound approach. "He's operating off some very good converging [research]," he said.

In addition, Mr. Lyon called the emphasis on early identification and intervention "extremely critical."

But the curriculum requirement—which would mandate phonics-based instruction coupled with several other strategies—raises a red flag for some.

"I don't believe that's a federal decision," said Richard Long, the Washington representative for the Newark, Del.-based International Reading Association.

Vol. 19, Issue 30, Page 25

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