BARTLETT, N.H. – Facing a skeptical crowd of teachers, Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry (search) defended his vote for the federal "No Child Left Behind Act" while criticizing President Bush for underfunding the far-reaching education reform law.
Speaking at the National Education Association (search) of New Hampshire convention, the Massachusetts senator repeated his promise to "hold this president accountable for making a mockery of the words, 'no child left behind."'
But some in the audience wanted to hold Kerry accountable for supporting the 2002 law, which requires states that accept federal money to broaden academic testing, triple spending for literacy programs and meet new standards for pupil performance.
Cathie Patridge-White asked Kerry how he could say a 1,200-page bill preserves local control over education.
Kerry responded that states do not have to accept federal money. He defended his support of the bill's goals, saying it wasn't his fault that Bush has not provided enough money.
"We can't sit here and pretend there wasn't something to address," Kerry said of problems plaguing the education system. "Regrettably, this administration turned its back on the deal it made."
Administration officials and Republican lawmakers have insisted that the law is adequately funded.
Kerry acknowledged that the law needs to be changed. "I'm on your side," he said. "I don't want you to have to teach rote. I don't want testing to be the be-all and end-all."
The answer didn't satisfy Partridge-White, president of the Derry, N.H., teacher's union, but Mary Boland had a more favorable impression.
"I understand what he's saying. We have to make a start somewhere. And I think if he gets elected, he has enough clout that he could fix it," said Boland, a recently retired English teacher from Salem, N.H.
Both women were among 250 educators who also heard from Kerry rival, Sen. John Edwards (search) of North Carolina, a day earlier. Noting that Edwards didn't face the same grilling as Kerry, Boland suggested that the group may not have taken him as seriously.
He "seems like a nice young man, but I'm not sure he has the clout to perform," Boland said. "He's a neophyte, a nice neophyte, but I don't see him having the clout Kerry would."