WASHINGTON – A high school in West Virginia, where he is in a close race for the state's five electoral votes, provides the latest forum for President Bush to both promote and defend his record on education.
Bush planned to urge that high schools ensure that graduates are ready for college or the work force. Many students have to spend their first year of college or on the job learning subjects and skills they should have mastered in high school, White House deputy press secretary Trent Duffy (search) said Thursday.
"The idea is that we actually return high school to the role that it once played, which was to prepare kids for either college or the work force," Duffy said. Bush would provide more details in his speech about how to reach that goal, he said.
Bush, who was visiting a school in Parkersburg on Thursday, has been competitive on the issue since the 2000 campaign, when his proposals helped him win support from women voters. But he and Democratic rival John Kerry (search) are now running close nationally on the question of who would do a better job on education, with Kerry ahead in some polls and the two closely matched in others.
Democrats view Bush as being vulnerable on education, and both campaigns are focused on it.
As he has for the past two days, Bush was expected to defend the education reform law called No Child Left Behind (search), which requires federally funded school systems to demonstrate that their students can meet a set of learning standards.
"I have seen incredible progress" and "my job as president is to continue to challenge," Bush told an audience of educators and state officials Wednesday at the National Institutes of Health (search) in Bethesda, Md.
"I am incredibly optimistic that we are getting it right" in providing resources to the nation's schools, he said.
Democrats say the administration's current budget shortchanges the law by some $9.4 billion, making it difficult for educators to meet the law's goals. Republicans say the Democrats' figures are misleading, that the Democrats' own alternative proposal for the fiscal year beginning Oct. 1 is billions of dollars under the authorized cap.
"You can't have strong schools with the president's weak education budget," said Sen. Edward Kennedy (search), D-Mass., who helped craft the legislation with Bush, who signed it in 2002.
Kerry, a Massachusetts senator who voted for the education law, has criticized Bush for what he says is the failure to give schools enough money. Kerry has touted his own plan to reduce the number of school dropouts and hire more teachers.
Bush said Wednesday that the funding is adequate and that his programs are working.
Besides No Child Left Behind, Bush also promoted the administration's "Reading First" program, which uses curriculum developed using NIH research into why millions of students cannot read up to their grade level. The program involves 73,000 teachers, more than 1 million pupils and a commitment to spend $5 billion over five years, Bush said.
Bush won West Virginia by 6 percentage points in 2000, becoming only the fourth Republican to do so since 1932. This year, the most recent state poll shows Bush with 47 percent, Kerry with 43, independent candidate Ralph Nader with 2, and 8 percent undecided. The poll's margin of error is plus or minus 3 percent.
The trip was his eighth as president to the state, where Democrats hold a 2-to-1 edge in voter registration.