Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry (search) pledged Tuesday to push for 1 million more high school graduates within five years and blamed President Bush for failing to provide enough money to help schools raise academic standards.

Kerry voted for the administration's No Child Left Behind (search) education policy but contends Bush has not enforced key graduation provisions of the law and has repeatedly opposed initiatives that would increase graduation rates. Under current regulations, he said, administrators can push lower-achieving students out of school to boost test scores.

"We've got 40 and 50 percent dropout rates in some cities," Kerry said while visiting at-risk students in the Youth Build program in St. Paul. "That's just unacceptable. A lot of alternative education sites are a way that kids can really find their way into the system."

Kerry said he has asked for an increase in the $65 million spent on Youth Build but was not supported by the Bush administration. After the program, Kerry was reading to a kindergarten class in Albuquerque before leading a discussion of education with New Mexico Democrats and parents. He planned to campaign in California later in the week.

Education officials estimate 1 million to 1.25 million students drop out each year, which would make the success of Kerry's pledge to increase graduation rates difficult to judge.

Kerry said more students would graduate if the federal government encouraged smaller schools and required them to improve graduation rates. He proposed a national effort to align the standards of what students learn in school to what they're supposed to know when they get to college or work. And he backed laws already on the books in some parts of the country that allow states to withhold driver's licenses of those who drop out.

Bush spokesman Steve Schmidt said the senator's criticism of No Child Left Behind is "another example of John Kerry saying one thing and doing another."

"John Kerry voted for No Child Left Behind legislation but has turned against it and now criticizes it at every turn for purely political reasons," Schmidt said.

Kerry's campaign said he would pay for his education initiatives by repealing Bush's tax cuts for people making more than $200,000 a year. It would cost $100 billion over 10 years to fully fund No Child Left Behind, and his other proposals to stem drop outs would cost $4.5 billion over 10 years, they said.