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Edwards rolls out education policy

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DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards rolled out a program for reforming primary education in the United States on Friday, proposing to pay teachers up to $15,000 more in high poverty areas and initiating universal preschool.

Edwards was to detail the proposals, which also include longer school years and reforming No Child Left Behind, later in the day in a speech at a Des Moines middle school.

In a copy of his policy statement provided to The Associated Press, Edwards said giving all children an equal chance to get a quality education is a commitment that is at the core of his plan to build One America "where everyone has a chance to succeed."

He said schools are still separate and unequal 50 years after a Supreme Court ruling required desegregation in public schools.

"No longer legally separated by race, our children are sorted by economics, often with a racial or ethnic dimension. At the same time, our children are preparing for unprecedented global economic competition," Edwards said in the policy statement.

He criticized the Bush administration's No Child Left Behind law, saying it's not working and needs a radical overhaul.

Rather than requiring students to take cheap standardized tests, Edwards said assessments that measure higher-order thinking skills must be developed, including open-ended essays, oral examinations, projects and experiments.

Edwards' plan calls for federal funding for the creation of universal preschool for all children when they turn 4. The preschools will teach skills students will need in school, including language abilities and introductions to early math, reading and other academic concepts.

The program, which will be voluntary, will begin in low-income neighborhoods where schools are struggling. Tuition would be charged on a sliding scale based on family income and waived for children from low-income families.

Edwards also proposed creation of a national program to promote health screening for problems related to speech, hearing, vision, dental and learning disabilities. The program would promote home visits by nurses to 50,000 low-income new parents.

Edwards also said he would raise teacher pay by up to $15,000 for educators in high-poverty areas.

His plan also includes:

—Creation of a West Point for teachers to recruit 1,000 top college students a year into teaching. Tuition would be waived for students who go to areas with teacher shortages.

—Federal money to reduce class sizes, particularly for young children who are learning below grade levels.

—Building and expanding 1,000 schools. Edwards will help 250 schools a year expand or start new branches with emphasis on smaller schools. Federal funds will support new buildings, excellent teachers, and other needs.

—Recommending longer school days and years to "create new opportunities for children to master the basics and a broader curriculum."

—Increasig federal Title I funding and dedicates the increases to low-income schools and districts and rewarding states that distribute funding where it is needed most to increase learning.

—Creating multiple paths to graduation such as second chance schools for dropouts and smaller alternative schools for at-risk students.

—Creating a Community Corps service programs for high school students, providing money to high schools that choose to make community service a graduation requirement.

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