President Bush defended his education policy Monday against Democratic charges that his "No Child Left Behind" initiative is inflexible and American schools are being shortchanged.
The president told educators at Pierre Laclede Elementary School, a high-performing urban grade school in north St. Louis, "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."
Mr. Bush also visited with about 50 fourth-graders. One asked Mr. Bush if he had wanted to be president when he was a child.
"No," he told the children, all nearly a decade shy of voting age. "It can be pretty hard."
Still, he called his job "a very rewarding experience" and took credit for "a world that's more peaceful, (where) more kids are learning to read."
On Thursday — the second anniversary of the signing of the No Child Left Behind Act — Mr. Bush will hold a similar event at West View Elementary School in Knoxville, Tenn. Both events are paired with re-election campaign fund-raisers.
The St. Louis stop was Mr. Bush's 14th visit to Missouri as president. In the 2000 election, he won the state's 11 electoral votes by fewer than 79,000 votes. His fund-raiser in downtown St. Louis on Monday was expected to raise $2.7 million for the 2004 Bush-Cheney campaign.
Mr. Bush and other Republicans say No Child Left Behind expands testing and toughens standards for teachers, schools and students. Some Democrats, however, say too little money has been provided for the mandated actions.
"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."
Other critics have argued that the funding increases that Bush touts aren't nearly enough to cover the costs of the new requirements, including the expense of creating tests and processing their results.
"We agree with the whole idea of standards and accountability, but it isn't being funded the way everybody thought it would be," said Sandra Feldman, president of the American Federation of Teachers, a union representing more than 1 million teachers. "An increase that is billions short of what you need to carry out the mandates just doesn't do it."
The Bush administration has actually proposed cuts in No Child Left Behind funding in the last two fiscal years, said Joel Packer, a staffer at the National Education Association, the nation's largest teachers union. Congress increased the appropriations, he said.
Critics also say that the way the law's federal grading system works isn't fair because it requires yearly progress not just from a school but from every subgroup of students, including those with disabilities and those who speak English as a second language.