Bush focused his attention on highlighting his "No Child Left Behind" initiative that would have all children reading by the third grade and would implement accountability measures in America's government schools.
"One thing, we're going to spend more money, and that's important, but as well, there needs to be a systemic change to not only encourage parental involvement, but to recognize that the systems have got to be geared on a child-by-child basis. And good accountability measures do that," Bush said.
Bush spent the morning touring H. Fletcher Brown Boys and Girls Club in a black section of Wilmington. He sauntered through the hallways decorated with colorful posters festooned with self-esteem-boosting slogans such as "The secret of getting ahead is getting started," "Be proud of your heritage," and "Dare to make your dreams come true." Bush also visited classrooms and stopped by the facility's computer center.
He waved away reporters' questions about the diplomatically delicate U.S. negotiations with China to retrieve a downed spy plane and its crew, but the looming crisis was never far from the administration's radar. A makeshift briefing had even been set up on one of the community center's top floors with a presidential podium and blue backdrop curtains just in case Bush would need to hold a hasty press conference.
But instead he was able to focus on his initiatives. Bush proposed tripling the funding for the Reading First and Early Reading First programs. Under his 2002 federal spending plan, the U.S. Department of Education would receive $4.6 billion, up 11.5 percent over 2001 and the largest funding increase of any of the Cabinet-level agencies.
Bush made the trip to Delaware accompanied by Democrat Sens. Joseph R. Biden Jr. and Thomas R. Carper, whom he tried to sell on his education spending plan, and then, before an audience of about 300 people, participated in a roundtable discussion with teachers, parents and businessmen who said they wanted to see more accountability in schools.
"I may not like every vote. Of course, they may not like every proposal," Bush said of Carper and Biden, drawing laughs from the audience.
The president voiced support for a bipartisan Empowering Parents Act of 2001 sponsored by Carper and Republican Sen. Judd Gregg of New Hampshire. The bill would triple the number of charter schools in the country by 2005 and would use grants to encourage school districts to enact voucher programs.
Carper-Gregg would provide $400 million annually to assist charter schools in financing for start-up and facility costs, provide an additional $400 million a year to establish parity between regular and charter schools, exempt interest on charter school loans from federal taxes and expand school choice with a $200 million grant program to create universal access within school districts.
Bush praised the community center's Power Hour, a mentoring and tutoring program.
"I believe so strongly in mentoring, and I believe so strongly in helping children understand that somebody loves them. And the government can't do that," Bush said.
He said government could facilitate programs and allow faith-based programs to access federal money, referring to his controversial proposal that has raised the ire of many conservative religious leaders, who fear funding will lead to government intrusion into the activities of religious organizations. Others believe it would violate what they think of as "separation of church and state" – a phrase found nowhere in the U.S. Constitution.
"How sad it would be if our system said you can't have tutorials in churches because of the legal process," Bush said. "It's important for our society to keep in mind: Every child matters."
In keeping with his theme for the week focusing on children, Bush on Wednesday is expected to greet at the White House members of Children Miracle Network, a group that raises money for pediatric hospitals.
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