WASHINGTON – Despite Democratic charges that President Bush's "No Child Left Behind" initiative is inflexible and has left American schools shortchanged, at least one elementary school is showing that the law, now entering its third year, can work.
Pierre Laclede Elementary School, located in a poor, crime-ridden neighborhood of north St. Louis, has some of the highest reading test scores in the state.
Bush, who visited the school Monday to celebrate the two-year anniversary of the law, said Laclede is the model of what reforms can achieve.
"I'm here to congratulate this school and hold you up for the nation to see what is possible when you raise the bar, when you're not afraid to hold people to account, when you empower your teachers and your principals to achieve the objective we all want — that's to make sure no child, not one single child in America, is left behind," he said.
The No Child Left Behind Act (search) requires all states to test students annually in grades three through eight in reading and math, beginning in 2005. Students attending non-performing schools have the right to change schools or get tutors, among other options.
In 1999, 7 percent of third-grade students at Laclede Elementary School could read at their grade level. Now, 80 percent can. Bush said the law helps students reach those levels by demanding they be tested every September, early in the school year when problems can be identified.
"How do you know a child isn't reading if you don't test," Bush asked. "How do you know who needs help? If the idea is to make sure not one child is left behind, you better test."
While the bill passed the Senate 98-1, several Senate Democrats now say that the president is proposing too little money in his budget requests to finance the reforms he sought.
"President Bush thinks he is providing enough for schools," Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., said in a statement issued Monday. "Parents, teachers and I don't. When President Bush's inadequate education budget is debated in Congress, Democrats will fight for the resources originally promised to reform and improve our schools."
"Everyone wants good schools. But rhetoric alone isn't enough. Real school reform requires real resources. The Bush administration and Republicans in Congress are shortchanging America's children and our future by refusing, year after year, to provide the bare minimum funding required under the new education law," said Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D.
Democratic presidential candidates are also saying the administration is failing to fund the programs. Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry, one of five candidates who voted for the bill, said Bush is shortchanging the program by $6 billion to $8 billion in the 2005 budget he is expected to propose in the next month.
Missouri Rep. Dick Gephardt and North Carolina Sen. John Edwards also complained that Americans are putting "too much faith" in the Bush administration to run the program.
Bush said Monday that funding for education of disadvantaged students has increased 41 percent since he took office, and one administration official noted that the Treasury has $6 billion on its hands that states are free to use to pursue reforms. The official said the extra cash lying around punches holes in complaints that the program is underfunded.
Officials also note that all 50 states now have plans in place for establishing their own standards and measuring progress toward goals they have set, shooting down complaints that the law's federal grading system does not allow schools to weigh properly subcategories of students, for instance those with disabilities and who speak English as a second language.
Among the Democratic candidates, former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean (search) is the only one who has said he opposes the reforms altogether, calling the No Child Left Behind Act a "really bad thing the president did" and chastising his rivals who serve in Congress for voting for the bill.
But Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman countered that those who suggest the program should be scrapped altogether are flat wrong:
"Anybody who says they're going to pull back and repeal No Child Left Behind is turning their back on the students, and particularly the low-income students of America. I won't do that," Lieberman said.
Fox News' Jim Angle and The Associated Press contributed to this report.