NEW ALBANY, Ind. – President Bush, who wants his legacy engraved with his education policy, lobbied Congress on Friday to reauthorize the No Child Left Behind law — and do it this year.
"My claim is it's working," Bush said at Silver Street Elementary School where he stopped before heading to Kentucky for a dinner to raise money for Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and the National Republican Senatorial Committee.
"We can change parts of it for the better, but don't change the core of a piece of legislation that is making a significant difference in the lives of a lot of children."
It was the second day in a row that Bush called for renewing the law he signed in 2002, requiring math and reading tests in grades 3 through 8 and once in high school. Schools that fail to show progress face consequences, such as having to provide tutoring or overhaul their staffs.
"We didn't design a federal test because I believe a federal test undermines local control," Bush said. "But I do believe you need to measure and I know you need to set high standards."
He also cautioned against weakening the law by making compliance too flexible.
"Watering down No Child Left Behind would be doing thousands of students a disservice," he said.
On Thursday, Bush made similar remarks at a charter school in New Orleans, pitching reauthorization of the law this year before the 2008 election makes is difficult to get legislation passed through Congress.
Democrats have complained that Bush has not provided enough money for education. In his budget proposal released last month, funding for the law would increase by a little more than $1 billion with an emphasis on boosting aid for low-income high school students. The proposal calls for new reading and math tests to be added in high school.
Before he spoke, Bush visited with kindergartners wiggling in tiny blue seats anticipating sharing their math lesson with the president. They told him it was the birthday of children's poet Dr. Seuss.
"Open up your bag of M&Ms," teacher Beverly Juliot told the children. "Just like Dr. Seuss wrote sentences with words, we're going to learn how to write sentences with numbers today."
Bush also visited with fifth graders who were learning about the Declaration of Independence. They asked Bush to sign his name in large letters — like John Hancock signed the Declaration of Independence — to their Declaration of Patriotism in which they pledged to be strong U.S. citizens.
They also showed him pictures of others who signed the Declaration of Independence.
"I know who that is — with the kite," Bush said. "Ben Franklin."