PHILADEPHIA – President Bush is unveiling a new government publication Wednesday that is meant to help teachers educating preschoolers.
The president will release a booklet called "Teaching Our Youngest," a compilation of materials put together by first lady Laura Bush that is meant to bring parents and teachers up to date on the latest techniques for introducing children to language and math.
Bush once again combined policy with politics Tuesday, attending a fund-raiser outside Philadelphia and touting his plans to reform pre-kindergarten education through more teacher training and better salaries.
After taking part in an education roundtable at the Penn State Delaware County campus, Bush made remarks about a new initiative by the Department of Health and Human Services under which training would be provided to all 50,000 teachers who participate in Head Start, the pre-kindergarten program run by the federal government.
"Every child must have an equal place at the starting line," Bush told an audience of educators, parents and students. "To close the achievement gap (in) our schools we must close the early childhood education gap in our society."
The administration says it will spend $45 million to assess the most effective literacy programs for children age 5 and younger and will work with states to make sure preschool programs more "fully align" with what goes on in classrooms from kindergarten to high school.
"Every Head Start center in the nation must teach these skills," Bush said.
Teacher turnover due to low salaries — on average $16,000 a year for preschool teachers — is the biggest challenge to successful early childhood programs, said Barbara Willer, deputy executive director of the National Association for the Education of Young Children. She said preschools and day care centers lose about one-third of their teachers each year to turnover.
"Unless strategies to improve teaching and learning are accompanied by strategies to ensure a trained, qualified and stable work force, they will fall short of their mark," Willer said.
Head Start teachers earn about $21,000 per year. The federal government spends $14 billion a year to help families, particularly low-income ones, provide for pre-kindergarten care, the White House said.
Bush and lawmakers offered separate proposals to reach the same basic goals.
Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., said he and a bipartisan group of colleagues would propose legislation to give incentive grants to states to coordinate existing early childhood programs of all kinds, including Head Start, preschool programs in public schools, in daycare centers and at home.
Kennedy proposed giving states $5 billion over five years. The money would be available to preschool programs that care for and teach children as young as newborns.
"To make a real difference for our youngest children, we must add flesh to the bones of the president's commitment," Kennedy said.
Like the No Child Left Behind Act for primary schoolers, local programs would be subject to "rigorous evaluation" by state departments of education.
The legislation, cosponsored by Sen. George Voinovich, R-Ohio, would tie teachers' training to their salaries and give parents information "in a way that is understandable," Kennedy said in a statement. Bush proposed a similar public awareness campaign.
The president was attempting to shift some attention from the war on terrorism and Mideast violence to his domestic agenda. "One way to fight evil is to do some good," Bush said.
"I'm going to be relentless and tireless...to make sure our homeland is secure," the president said. At the same time, he said, "The new civil right in America is reading."
"My administration will not be distracted from these goals," he added.
While in Pennsylvania, the swing state Bush has visited more than any other since taking office, Bush attended a fundraiser for state Attorney General Mike Fisher, who is running unopposed for the Republican nomination for governor.
The president's appearance was expected to generate $1 million for the Fisher campaign.
Former Philadelphia Mayor Edward G. Rendell is battling state Auditor General Robert P. Casey Jr. for the Democratic nomination.
Fox News' James Rosen and the Associated Press contributed to this report.