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Bush Marks 'No Child' Birthday

President Bush on Thursday was marking the second anniversary of his landmark "No Child Left Behind" education law, but Democrats accused the president of failing to do his homework.

Education was the signature domestic issue of Mr. Bush's 2000 campaign, and he has been eager to tout his signing of the law two years ago as a key achievement of his presidency as he seeks re-election this November.

The law aims to improve teaching and student performance and close the education gap between rich and poor students by relying on required testing and penalties for schools whose students fail to meet goals. Schools may be required to let students transfer to other schools, provide private tutoring, or in cases of repeated failures, let the state take over.

Mr. Bush also touted the law Monday on a trip to a school in north St. Louis.

But Democrats complained ahead of Mr. Bush's trip that the anniversary was no time for celebrating, as it marks two years of Republicans selling short the bipartisan achievement that produced the new law. They and other critics say Republicans have failed to approve as much money as the law authorizes.

"For Republicans, that agreement was an empty promise," House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said.

"Two years ago, it was right for President Bush to celebrate the promise of the No Child Left Behind Act. Today, it's disingenuous," said Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., who formed an unlikely alliance with Mr. Bush to pass the law in 2001 but has since become one of the president's strongest critics on the topic.

Kennedy said the president's 2004 budget shortchanges the No Child Left Behind program by more than $7 billion.

In addition to funding concerns, some are questioning the research behind the policies enshrined in No Child Left Behind, reports CBS 60 Minutes II Correspondent Dan Rather.

Mr. Bush modeled the federal program after the system that Education Secretary Rod Paige implemented in Houston, where Paige was superintendent, in which principals worked on short contracts and received cash bonuses for meeting strict testing standards.

One of the indicators of the system's success, supporters said, was the low dropout rate in Houston schools. The school district reported a citywide dropout rate of 1.5 percent.

But educators and experts 60 Minutes II checked with put Houston's true dropout rate somewhere between 25 and 50 percent. Investigators found that almost 3,000 students should have been — but weren't — coded as dropouts.

Besides the focus on education, Mr. Bush was heading to Knoxville, Tenn., and Palm Beach, Fla., to further build up his record campaign was chest, and revisit to states key to his 2000 victory: Florida, where he was declared winner by only a few hundred votes, and Tennessee, where he edged native Al Gore.

With $99 million in the bank, the president is on an aggressive search for more money. He has another half-dozen fund raisers scheduled around the country through the rest of the month.

With no challenger for the Republican presidential nomination, Mr. Bush plans to raise $150 million to $170 million in all. He raised a record $130 million last year and, after campaign expenses, closed 2003 with $99 million.

Much of Mr. Bush's money came thanks to a network of more than 300 business executives, lobbyists, attorneys and other volunteer campaign fund-raisers who gathered at least $100,000 or $200,000 in donations to become Mr. Bush "pioneers" or "rangers."

In the last fund-raising quarter, from October through December, Mr. Bush raised $47 million — $32 million in fund-raisers, $14 million through direct mail, and $1 million over the Internet.

Mr. Bush's 2003 fund raising rivals that raised by all the Democratic candidates put together. They have raised at least $120.5 million, with John Kerry, John Edwards, Dick Gephardt, Joe Lieberman and Al Sharpton yet to release fourth-quarter totals. Unlike Mr. Bush, they have spent most of their money campaigning in the upcoming primaries.

Mr. Bush's nearest challenger in the money chase, Democratic front-runner Howard Dean, raised about $40 million last year.

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