MEDIA, Pa., April 2 (UPI) -- President George W. Bush called reading the "new civil right" in America as he unveiled his new initiatives for Head Start programs during an appearance Tuesday at a Penn State University satellite campus.
"We must leave no child behind. My administration will not be distracted from these goals. As we fight for freedom, I also understand that freedom means no child in America will be left behind. The new civil right in America is reading." Bush said.
Bush left Washington in the early afternoon for the short trip to the city of Media, where U.S. Department of Education Secretary Rod Paige and Pennsylvania Republican Sen. Arlen Specter joined Bush as he announced plans to boost the quality of Head Start, a comprehensive education and health services program for low-income pre-school children. Afterwards he headed off to attend a campaign fundraiser for a GOP gubernatorial candidate.
The new program, Bush said, would focus on pre-reading and language development in children. Head Start centers across the country would be required to enhance activities for children to acquire language and number skills and provide the youngsters with essential social service programs.
"We've got to work with Head Start centers to make sure that they've got the curriculum necessary to teach every child the building blocks for reading," Bush said during the roundtable discussion. "We've got to work with states to encourage states to develop a strategy that will help focus the time and attention and resources on the programs that will not only give children the basics for reading, but give children the essential nourishment so that they can become ready to compete in the public school system in America," Bush said.
Bush said he wants to reach nearly 50,000 Head Start teachers over the next 12 months with the tools necessary to teach basic skills. Bush also said he wants individual states receiving federal funds for child care to submit a plan promoting early childhood education. Those states would be required to provide pre-kindergarten programs with pre-reading and literacy skills, and have a plan to expand the training of their child-care and preschool teachers.
First lady Laura Bush will also be launching a public awareness campaign with a series of booklets that give parents suggestions on child development during the crucial early states of a child's life. The publications, Bush said, will be available nationwide to families with newborns.
In January the president signed the sweeping education reform legislation into law that set goals for the public education system. Under the reform package, the nation's schools will be required to increase annual performance testing for children in grades 3 through 8 in reading and math.
Bush's reform package provides about $1 billion aimed at ensuring all children read by the third grade while requiring states to have "highly qualified" teachers in every classroom within five years. The Bush White House expects that America will need more than 2 million new teachers by 2005. Congress approved $3 billion in funding for teacher training, recruiting and hiring in fiscal year 2002, an increase of more than 35 percent over 2001.
Critics of the new education law -- many of whom are school administrators - say the Bush White House has not provided enough funding to carry out its ambitious plan to overhaul the education system. They say that public schools, particularly those located in rural or poverty-stricken urban areas -- suffer from a lack of qualified teachers and that Bush is asking some schools to dump successful learning programs for what the administration calls scientifically proven curriculums.
"We applaud the general direction of improving teacher training," said Paul D. Houston, executive director of the American Association of School Administrators. But Houston said he was concerned about where the administration would find the money to fund the initiative. He also said he was concerned that Bush's focus was too concentrated on the education segment of Head Start and not enough on the social services aspect.
Houston said he also had concerns as Head Start teachers fulfilled enhanced training requirements, they would continue to move into higher paying K-12 positions. The average salary for a Head Start teacher, he said, was $20,000 per year, while the salaries for K-12 teachers range from $35,000 to $40,000 per year.
After leaving the Penn State's Media campus, Bush headed for the Four Seasons Hotel in downtown Philadelphia. The president was expected to help raise $1 million for Mark Fisher, Pennsylvania's attorney general, in a $1,000 a plate dinner and a $10,000 per person private reception. The president has been on an aggressive fund-raising blitz, traveling last week to South Carolina and Georgia where he helped raise some $2 million for GOP candidates. Next week he is expected to be in Connecticut where he will attend fund-raising luncheons for three Republican moderates.