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The BBC's Amanda Woods
"Vouchers were rejected by two states last year"
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George W Bush
"No child will be left behind"
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Tuesday, 23 January, 2001, 22:50 GMT
Bush sets out education plan
George W Bush
Bush made education a key election issue
US President George W Bush has outlined his first legislative proposals to Congress - a package of school reforms.

Speaking in the White House East Room to mark the proposal's launch, Mr Bush said that he aimed to improve state education.

It's time to come together to get it done, so that we can truthfully say in America: 'No child will be left behind, not one single child'

George W Bush
He called for obligatory reading and maths testing, and pledged to help pupils who were falling behind.

Some of the reforms included in the $47.6bn package are being welcomed by all political parties.

But one idea - the voucher scheme - is likely to prove contentious. It proposes that parents should be able to take not only their children, but the money provided for their education, out of failing schools and into the private sector.

Education was a key issue in Mr Bush's presidential election campaign.

Launching his education reform programme, Mr Bush said: "It's time to come together to get it done, so that we can truthfully say in America: 'No child will be left behind, not one single child'."

Failing schools

Correspondents say that the American school system is near collapse in many cities, with thousands of vacant teaching posts, crumbling buildings and high levels of truancy.

Many middle class parents are avoiding poorer schools by moving to suburbs or paying for private education.

Rod Paige
Education Secretary-designate Rod Paige will be working with the plan
Mr Bush's plan includes a boost to reading programmes, probably through the Head Start scheme which targets children from low-income families.

But vouchers promise to be the most controversial issue in the programme.

Under the proposals, failing schools will have three years to get up to standard.

Schools would also get extra resources during that time, but if they continued to fail, federal funds would be withdrawn and instead, parents would be given a $1,500 voucher per child to use in other schools, public or private.

The Associated Press news agency quoted a Bush official as saying that the president would offer financing to failing schools for those three years on top of what was proposed during the election campaign.

This move is seen as an attempt to win over Democrats who oppose the scheme, which they see as being potentially destructive to the state school system.

The Democrats are instead proposing their own programme for poorer schools.

'No imposition'

Mr Bush told journalists: "I've always said that public schools, the common schools - issues related to public schools - are not a Republican issue or a Democrat issue. It's an American issue."

He said he would not impose vouchers on schools.

"That's not the prerogative of the federal government, as far as I'm concerned," he said.

"But to the extent that the federal government spends money, we ought to expect good results and good consequences."

Federal spending on US schools amounts to only a very small proportion of their budgets.

Senator Joseph Lieberman, the Democrats' unsuccessful vice-presidential candidate, told ABC television that the Democrats preferred to put more money into poorer schools, allow teachers and principals more flexibility on the use of funds and, if this failed, close the schools and radically restructure them.

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See also:

23 Jan 01 | Americas
EU condemns Bush abortion move
21 Jan 01 | Americas
Bush stamps his authority
02 Jan 01 | Education
Extra tests in Bush school plan
08 Nov 00 | Education
School voucher schemes rejected
03 Sep 00 | Education
Voucher system aids black pupils
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