PHILADELPHIA – Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry's (search) criticism of President Bush's education record drew a rebuke Thursday from an unlikely source — Vice President Dick Cheney's (search) wife.
Cheney has been Kerry's chief White House critic.
His wife, Lynne, who addressed the conservative New York-based Manhattan Institute, picked up the Bush re-election team's charge that Kerry often takes both sides of an issue. She noted the Massachusetts senator's vote for the president's No Child Left Behind (search) education initiative, which he now criticizes.
"Certainly it's hard to come up with a satisfying explanation for his change of heart about No Child Left Behind," she said. "Maybe it's simply this: When you run for president against an incumbent, it's really hard to say, 'Good job, Mr. President.' But President Bush has done a good job."
Kerry says the Bush administration has broken the promise of No Child Left Behind by failing to adequately fund it. He said he would raise $200 billion to improve education by repealing Bush's tax breaks for those earning more than $200,000 a year.
Lynne Cheney responded that "money is not the be-all and end-all in education."
"Behind this charge seems to be the assumption that a flood of money can solve the problem of academic achievement, an assumption that, if it were true, would give Washington, D. C., which spends nearly $14,000 a year on every student, some of the best schools in the country," she said. "The truth is, Washington, D.C.'s schools spend at the top but achieve at the bottom."
During a visit to Philadelphia's Edison High School, Kerry said Bush also is underfunding GEAR UP, a program that sponsors tutoring and mentoring, college visits and workshops that help guide low-income students into college.
"It is misleading to be saying to Americans we are going to leave no child behind and then consciously make choices to cut programs like this or to starve them so that they can't do the full job," Kerry said. "This is America's priority right here. It's the top priority, and we deserve a president who understands that and who is prepared to put the money behind it."
The Kerry campaign said the federal government spends $298 million on GEAR UP, and that Bush proposed a $68 million cut in this year's budget. Kerry would like to increase spending on the program by $200 million.
Kerry said that within five years of being elected, he would increase college enrollment by 1.5 million students by expanding GEAR UP, simplifying student aid applications and providing tuition tax credits.
Kerry also has pledged that if elected, 1 million more high school students would graduate within five years. Lynne Cheney said Bush also has a strong emphasis on graduation rates, but "simply handing out diplomas cannot be the major goal of our schools. Those diplomas have to mean something."
Kerry flew back to Washington in the afternoon to cast a vote in the Senate against the president's budget proposal. But with senators still deliberating behind closed doors, Kerry turned around 90 minutes later and headed to Boston for a fund-raiser. The event, held at the Cambridge home of Swanee Hunt, the ambassador to Austria under President Clinton, raised $800,000 — $400,000 for Kerry and $400,000 for the Democratic National Committee, the candidate said.
Senators later decided to schedule the budget vote sometime after the Memorial Day recess.
Kerry, eager to make a stand against Bush's spending plan, said he would return to the Capitol when the budget comes up for a vote. Kerry has made only 14 of 101 Senate roll call votes this year, according to an Associated Press tally.
His other votes have been on gun control, tax cuts, defense issues and abortion.